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

6 Signs Your Aren’t Maximizing Your Training Effectiveness

Does your training gear still look brand new?

When you train your goal should always be to train effectively. If every training session doesn’t get you closer to your goals, then you are really just wasting time, money, and your energy. Sometimes it can be difficult to really know how effective you are in your training. Below you will find a list of warning signs that suggest your training may be ineffective. How many of these apply to you?

The data in your training log shows no progress

In your training log or journal, you should always be seeing a trend of progress. Your shooting splits should be decreasing over time. Your max reps or weights should be going up, and scores in general should improve.

When you look at your log, you should be able to see this progress. Maybe not on the scale of each session or even each week, but over several months you should be getting better. If you are constantly gaining and losing again, you might want to consider redesigning your program to improve your consistency.

You don’t have a log

You do have a log right?

Not everyone believes in tracking progress, but I do. When you do see trends of growth and improvement you have the record of who, what, when, why, and how. Without it you can’t learn from your successes or your mistakes. And those long term trends are hard to see without it.

Furthermore, seeing improvement is a great motivator.

You haven’t checked your progress against your goals

Do you periodically check the data in your log against the goals you set at the beginning of the year?

If not you are missing out on an opportunity to directly measure how effective you are being. Having good, measurable goals means that you can easily see just how well you stack up to your plan.

Your equipment still looks shiny and new

If your equipment isn’t wearing out at least a little, or it is collecting dust, you probably aren’t training often or hard enough.

As an example the Glock 17 I use for most of my dry-fire and live fire training has some smooth shiny spots where the finish is starting to rub off, and the inside of the magwell is dinged up from thousands of repetitions of reloads. If the gun still looked new, you would probably say I wasn’t using it.

The same goes for any other training gear you have. Ever see an experienced black belt’s belt? The guys who train the hardest always have tattered belts after years of training… and it’s not from the washing machine…

You haven’t adjusted your plan

When you set out to achieve your goals, you make a training plan. Certain days get set aside for certain things and you plan out how you will achieve your goals.

As the saying goes: no plan survives contact with the enemy.

As you compare your results with your goals, you should be adjusting your plan. Some areas might not be getting the attention they need while other areas might be showing more progress and you can afford to redirect those efforts to your weak spots.

If you aren’t adjusting your plan regularly, you aren’t thinking critically about your training, and therefore are not maximizing your effectiveness.

Your plan hasn’t stayed the same for longer than a week

On the other hand, changing your plan too often can be your downfall. If you don’t give your plan at least a few weeks or months to prove itself, you are doing yourself a disservice.

No plan can really prove its effectiveness or lack thereof in a few days. Stay the course long enough to see if it works. Only when it has been given enough time to demonstrate how effective it is should you change your plan.

These are just a few signs you can watch for in your own training. Any of these can be an indicator that you aren’t maximizing your effectiveness in your training.

Do any of these warning signs sound familiar? Are there any other warning signs I missed? Post in the comments below.

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What Are Your Goals for 2013?

Photo Credit: Peter Kaminski

In case it wasn’t already obvious… this post is about a month late. Life got busy… Hopefully this is timeless content and you don’t mind the delay. Thank you for reading!

Well, it is here: 2013. A new year, and coming with it new challenges. Many people set out with New Year’s resolutions, goals and changes they intend to make to their lives. This is also a great time for reflection on the goals of the previous year.

Looking back at 2012

Looking back at 2012 I made a lot of training goals to go along with my ambitions to build this blog. Looking back now I’m actually happy that I didn’t publish a list of these goals, because honestly it is a little embarrassing how poorly I performed.

I only achieved a few goals, but worse than making progress and not meeting the mark is the large number of goals I set that I never even attempted to make progress on. I think this demonstrates a few things about setting goals.

  1. Too many goals can be a huge problem. In a previous post about setting goals, I pointed this out but failed to follow my own advice. 18 goals was way too many.

  2. I didn’t follow up or have intermediate goals. That means that it was easy to forget about the things not immediately on my radar. As a result I made no progress on them.

  3. For the goals I did make progress on, I fell short on almost all of them. I set goals that I thought were attainable, but honestly it seems like I set the bar too high.

New Philosophy for 2013

This brings me to the coming year. Obviously how I set my goals needs to change, both to make them more attainable and to make sure I have a proper plan in place to keep on top of these goals.

First, I’m going to limit the number of goals. I’ll follow my own advice and try for 7. That is much more reasonable than 18, and is basically the number of goals I actually worked on out of my 18 for 2012.

Second, I’m going to set intermediate milestones every 2 months, and set up reminders to check my progress against these milestones. If I fall behind in two months, I’ll have another kick in the ass to keep moving.

Third, I’m lowering the bar on my goals. Since most of these goals are almost exactly the same in nature to goals from 2012, I’ll use the amount of progress I made last year as a guide for setting my new goals.

Goals for 2013

To keep myself honest I’m even going to publish my goals as well as my intermediate milestones.

  1. Improve my 3 F.A.S.T. Avg (in a given range session) to be < 6 seconds

There isn’t much to say about this other than the fact that I’m scaling back from my goal of < 5 seconds for this year… and making the goal tracking more towards consistency. I want to be consistent as well as fast.

Milestones:

Feb Apr Jun Aug Oct Dec
< 7.0s < 6.8s < 6.6s < 6.4s < 6.2s < 6.0s
  1. Achieve a 50/50 Dot Torture at 6 yards

In 2012 my goal was a 50/50 at 5 yards, and I almost made it. I’m raising the bar a little since I have a whole year to go, but I want to achieve my goal this time.

Milestones:

Feb Apr Jun Aug Oct Dec
50/50 @ 5yds 46/50 @ 6yds 47/50 @ 6yds 48/50 @ 6yds 49/50 @ 6yds 50/50 @ 6yds
  1. Participate in 5 IDPA matches in 2013

Last year I made it to 2. I want to make sure I get to some more matches if for no other reason than to keep pressure testing my shooting skills.

Milestones:

Feb Apr Jun Aug Oct Dec
0 0 1 3 5 5
  1. Get classified in IDPA

I wanted to make it to IDPA Expert in 2012, but didn’t even get a chance to get classified. Instead my goal is to get classified this year, because quite frankly I need a point to measure from.

Milestones: N/A

  1. Study all Kata up to Sandan

One of my life goals in 2013 is to get my new NH dojo off the ground. I’ll be launching I launched the dojo in January and will hopefully get enough students to keep the doors open. As part of this goal I want to dedicate more of my life to regular karate training. A major piece of this is not only studying the Kata I know already, but to learn the new Kata that I should for my next grade.

Milestones: Rather than list the entire litany of Kyokushin Kata here I’ll generalize: I have picked a few for each milestone to focus on for each 2 month period. At a minimum I should be able to check off that I have spent the time or I haven’t up until I get to the ones I am starting to learn.

  1. Increase my one set max for pullups to 15

Improving my pullups was a major goal last year. I increased my total by a few, but fell well short of my goal of 25. This year I’m decreasing my goal to be only 4 or 5 above my usual one set max.

Milestones:

Feb Apr Jun Aug Oct Dec
10 11 12 13 14 15
  1. Increase my one set max for pushups to 40

I also spent a lot of time in 2012 working on improving my pushups. Now I do need to qualify that when I am talking about pushups, I am talking about knuckle pushups where my chest goes all the way to the floor. This full range of motion is much more difficult than the more common dinky pushups, and hence why the goal number is fairly low.

Milestones:

Feb Apr Jun Aug Oct Dec
20 24 28 32 36 40

What are your goals for 2013?

I’ve told you about my goals, but what are yours? Please post your goals in the comments below, or email me. If I get enough feedback I plan on putting together a post listing everyone’s goals for 2013 to hopefully help people in determining what kinds of goals they should make for 2013.

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.

5 Ways to Stay Motivated

Photo Credit: Jeremy Botter

What is the hardest part of training? I adamantly believe that it is staying motivated. Practicing and learning are relatively easy, but convincing yourself day after day to keep training, to do one more rep and push yourself a little further can be hard to do.

How many times have you started getting ready to go to the gym and decided not to? Or found some sort of excuse why you couldn’t dry fire today? Excuses are easy to find, especially when motivation is at its lowest.

I don’t have all the answers and can fall into many of these traps myself, but here are some tricks that have helped me to keep motivated and trudging on.

Find ways to make measurable progress (if only small)

Progress is the best motivator in the world. If you are able to do 10 pushups today and 11 pushups tomorrow, you have evidence that you are making progress. When you see progress you see the fruits of your labor and it makes any of the pain and suffering worth it.

When you lose sight of progress, or it becomes too small to measure day to day or week to week, you are destined to lose motivation. When you aren’t succeeding every day why keep going?

The best way to keep motivated is to keep making progress.

If you are working on a skill or exercise that requires significant time and dedication to reach the next milestone, this can be difficult to see. Make your progress more obvious by finding intermediate milestones.

Maybe this means adding smaller amounts of weight to a weight routine, adding repetitions or even decreasing the length of time for your workout. With shooting skills, finding measurable progress might require you to start using calipers to measure your groups or investing in a shot timer.

If you see progress you will be less likely to tell yourself to skip training.

Set achievable goals

Connected to the idea of measurable progress is achievable goals. You may have big goals set that are very difficult to achieve. Rather than struggle for potentially years to achieve these goals, set some intermediate goals that you know you can achieve.

If you set a goal to become rated Master in IDPA for example, perhaps setting your sights on Expert or Sharpshooter are more easily attainable for you. Strive for the reachable goals so you get an opportunity to pat yourself on the back for achieving your goal.

Leave yourself reminders

Sometimes motivation is about remembering why you want to train. Or even that you should train.

A great way to stay motivated is to find ways not to forget the reasons you want to train. Place a sticky note on your bathroom mirror. Maybe all it says is go train. Or it could have your goals written on it. Either way, seeing your goals every day should inspire you to keep training, even when you don’t feel like it.

Train with others

Another method for staying motivated is to train with others. When you are weak, your friends will pick you back up. When you are strong you pick your friends back up.

Even better is the desire not to show weakness in front of your friends. We all perform better with an audience if for no other reason than we are a competitive species. You want to avoid losing motivation? Form a training group.

Don’t allow yourself to give up

Tricks can help you to stay motivated, but sometimes it is just about willpower. Work on building the mindset to keep training and not to give in to the temptation of quitting or taking it easy. Treat the desire to quit as the inspiration not to.

You want to quit, therefore you can’t.

It should be your goal to build that never quitting attitude required to succeed (and reach your other goals).

Motivation is difficult to find at times. You might have had a rough day at work, or you might be tired or sore from another training session. You might feel a little sick or have allergies, or maybe the AC is broken.

At times like these, tell yourself to suck it up and get back to training. Use the tricks if you need them and tell yourself not to give in.

Train Like It’s Your Last Day To Train

Photo Credit: U.S. Army

Every day of training tends to be a little different. Sometimes we work on precise skills, other times we work on strength or other physically demanding training. Some of these days are easy, and others are not quite so easy.

One common thread ties all of these training sessions together. You should be training like it is your last day to train. There is only now.

Training should never be lackadaisical. Every time you train, it is potentially your last opportunity to practice before the unthinkable happens. Make every session count.

Since every session might be your last, you have two responsibilities to yourself when you train:

Firstly, don’t waste a single opportunity for improvement. Don’t just go through the motions, instead put 100% of your concentration and focus into every repetition you practice. If you can only set aside a limited amount of time to train, then make every second count. Wasting time is fine when you are doing something of limited importance – training to defend yourself does not fall in that category.

Secondly, don’t let fatigue or discomfort slow you down or stop you. Whenever you hit that wall of fatigue or maybe even pain, take this an opportunity to build mental toughness. No one ever got anywhere by taking it easy in life. Work through the discomfort and fatigue and keep pushing on.

When it really matters, you won’t have the opportunity to stop for a breather or to go half as hard. Not only should every training session be like the last you’ll ever have, but every single repetition should be like the last. There is only now.

When it gets tough, dig deep and keep going. You have only two options when the chips are down: succeed or fail. Don’t take the second option.

Best of the Web 5/11/12

Another week, and some more great posts.  Here are my favorites from the past 7 days.

Priorities (pistol-training.com) – Todd touches on a point that I strongly agree with.  Performance is good, but reliability needs to be there as well.  I think this applies for both equipment and skills.  If your equipment provides superb performance when it works, but only works a small percentage of the time, was the tradeoff worth it?  Consistency and reliability are prerequisites to performance.

Will vs Skill (thetruthaboutguns.com) – Paul Markel wrote a great post for The Truth About Guns about mindset.  The short version is that the will to succeed is more valuable than skills that aren’t backed up by the right mindset.  I can’t agree more.  High stress, high pressure training techniques help push us so we can find those weak spots in both our training and our willpower.

 

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.

1st Quarter Goals Checkup (Time to revisit your goals)

 

Photo by theogeo

Did you set goals this year? Any New Year’s resolutions? I hope you did because without setting goals you can only hope to be aimless and disorganized with your training. We set goals so we have something to aim for. Training is the journey, but goals are the waypoints or destination.

If training is a journey and your goal is the destination, then it makes sense to periodically check and make sure you are getting closer to the destination. Just like we keep our eyes open when we drive to make sure we don’t swerve off the road, we need to pay attention to our training ,making sure we stay on course for reaching our goals.

Since 25% of the year is already behind us, this is a perfect time to check on your progress. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you discern whether you are being effective in reaching your goals:

Have you completed any goals?

Sometimes we set goals that are easier to achieve than we expected. It’s not impossible that you have already completed one or more of your goals for the year. If you have, that’s great – pat yourself on the back. If not, make sure you are making progress toward your goal.

Once you have completed a goal, you should ask yourself what is next. If you’ve already completed a goal by now and you were hoping to reach it by the end of the year, you still have 75% of the year left. This would be a good time to set a new goal to take yourself further.

One of my goals for this year was to increase my flexibility, specifically to improve my “touch your toes” stretch. I achieved this goal after roughly a month. This was a perfect opportunity for me to set a new goal, perhaps to stretch farther than I can now. In my case since I already had goals for other stretches, I intend to double down and focus even more on those stretches.

Are you making progress toward your goals?

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t accomplished a goal yet, progress may be just as good. Progress is a huge motivator. If you are getting worse, or staying stagnant, you need to revisit how you are attacking your goals. Three months without progress is a sign that it’s time to try something else.

Are you making enough progress toward your goals?

Hand in hand with making progress is making enough progress. One of my goals this year is to effectively triple the number of pullups I can do in a single set from 8 to 25. At my last check, I was performing around 11. At the rate of improving by 1 per month, I definitely won’t meet my goal by the end of the year. I am currently taking a crack at Stew Smith’s pullup push workout, which should give me a huge leg up towards this goal by the end of the week. I’ll revisit my current max and see what I need to do to reach my goal.

If it doesn’t look like you can reach a goal, you have two options. The first is to give up on that goal and pull it in to a more realistic level. There is no shame in this if you set yourself up with a super-human objective that you couldn’t dream of reaching. The second option is to take another look at your approach. Maybe you need more workout or practice sessions, or maybe getting some mentoring or instruction might help.

Whatever your goals, do take a serious look at them and your current progress. If you never course correct you will have a harder time reaching these goals. Most of the things we are trying to achieve take a lot of time and focus. If we don’t make the best use of our time, then our goals are out the window.

How are you doing with your goals?

The Carpenter’s Tools

The past few weeks I have written some posts on the subject of why one tool is better or worse than another. More specifically, you may have noticed my low opinions of shotguns and revolvers. The arguments that are typically fired back in favor of these firearms (or any firearm as the ultimate tool above all others) are the result of flawed logic. The same is also true of the individual who argues that his high capacity pistol or his tricked out AR15 will solve all his problems.

Skills solve problems; tools only help you to solve them.

Take for example carpentry. Having a hammer doesn’t make me a master carpenter. I have a garage full of saws, drills, and hammers, but I am far from what one would consider a carpenter. Sure I can throw some scrap wood together or build myself a workbench, but the quality of my output doesn’t compare to that of someone who spends their career working with wood. I can buy all the best tools, but a top of the line saw or drill won’t make up for my limited skills.

The biggest difference between carpentry and self-defense is that a carpenter’s skills aren’t used in life or death situations. I could spend my time trying to become a master carpenter, but since I probably won’t have to rely on my carpentry skills to save my life, I prefer to train. Just like with carpentry, we have many tools at our disposal for training. What many people fail to realize is that in the end, training is not about the tools, it’s about you. The carpenter may use tools to get the job done, but tools have no value without a skilled practitioner.

Rather than fixating on finding the perfect tool to solve a problem, we must all invest time and energy into training the skills we will need. You must practice.

Shotguns can in fact miss, and revolvers aren’t really that easy to shoot. Semi-auto pistols, even high capacity ones, can require reloading or can malfunction. Even an AK47 can malfunction. The list goes on and on. No tool you can use is magical.

Before someone expects to go out and earn their living as a carpenter, they go to a vocational school and or spend time as an apprentice. They spend probably thousands of hours practicing before they put their skills to use to pay the bills. Even after these skills start paying the bills, through working every day a carpenter improves and gets better at his job.

Self-defense is somewhat unique in that the entire investment in skills may come down to be used in a single moment. We cannot choose when or where this moment will occur, or if it ever does occur. We certainly need to invest our time up front beforehand to be ready. We cannot rely on the use of our skills in our day to day life to necessarily improve them. Instead you must practice consistently.

The carpenter prepares in order to do everyday jobs, but he also prepares for the less common special requests a job might require. If he prepared only for the common tasks, he limits the opportunity to find other work.

Don’t rely on any tool, whether it is a certain type of pistol, rifle, knife, whatever. Take that tool, and learn to be effective with it. Master its use so that if you are ever called upon to use a weapon to defend yourself, you aren’t relying on the weapon so much as your training.

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