Pistolcraft – The New Way of Strategy?

Miyamoto Musashi was a great swordsman who lived in the late 1500’s into the early 1600’s. He excelled in the use of the sword, but also as a tactician. As a practitioner of swordsmanship, Musashi like many other swordsmen was considered a strategist. And more so than studying the sword, these men practiced the way of strategy.

Picture by MShades

For them the sword was a tool. They needed to have the raw skills to manipulate that tool, but it was just one part of the big picture. Over the course of his life, Musashi defeated many men in duels. He has been credited with defeating a large group of warriors sent to kill him, and he ultimately lived his life undefeated. Musashi didn’t win all of these encounters purely based on his raw technique being better than his adversary; instead, he was a master of strategy.

During this time period it was common for the members of the warrior caste to carry with them their swords at all times. These strategists were always armed, and always ready for whatever threat might lay before them.

Translating the Sword to the Pistol

If you fast forward to today, it is uncommon to see anyone carrying a sword. The sword is in many ways a classic weapon, but not one that is considered part of the modern stable of fighting weapons.

In its time the sword was the weapon of choice for the armed citizen. Today the weapon of choice for the armed citizen is the pistol. We carry pistols to protect ourselves in the same way that the sword was carried in feudal Japan. The pistol has replaced the sword as the preferred implement of combat.

You could break the study of Musashi’s way of strategy into two parts: the study of the sword and its techniques and the study of the strategic and tactical use of the sword. We could similarly break down the study of pistol strategy.

Pistol as the New Way of Strategy

As with the sword, we can spend an eternity perfecting the use of the pistol. Marksmanship takes dedicated effort to master. Drawing the pistol and getting on target, recoil management, reloads, malfunction clearance, and retention merely scratch the surface of all of the skills that come along with studying the pistol.

Learning how to manipulate the sword does not make you a strategist, and neither does learning how to manipulate the pistol. To be tactically sound with the pistol there are a variety of skills and tactics that need to be mastered. Moving through structures and making best use of your environment to maximize cover and concealment both immediately come to mind.

The modern strategist goes above and beyond simply studying and perfecting the manipulations of a weapon. He learns to use that tool as part of a broader strategy. Raw skills are worth the investment of time and effort, but without strategy they will always remain just skills.

Training as Insurance

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One way to look at your training is from the perspective that it is an insurance policy. I take out an insurance policy on my car because I don’t know what the future holds. I could get in a car accident on my way to work after writing this post, or I could go through the rest of my life without getting in a single accident. Insurance provides some peace of mind should an accident ever occur.

Similarly, I don’t know if I’ll be able to go through the rest of my life without ever needing to employ force to protect myself or my loved ones. I live in a nice area, so I don’t expect a break-in to be likely, but it could happen. I could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and have someone attempt to mug me. Just like I would buy insurance for my car, I insure against these scenarios by training.

Just as car insurance can’t prevent an accident from happening, most training won’t prevent an attack. However, awareness training and verbal skills can prevent a confrontation from escalating. Insurance and training both serve to mitigate risk, reducing the chance of an undesirable outcome.

Another parallel between insurance and training is that we can choose our coverage levels and decide how much we spend. For my car I have the choice of adding theft or fire coverage to my vehicle, knowing that these are both less likely to occur than say a fender bender. I can decide not to buy those coverages and gamble that I won’t need them.

The same thing happens with training. By deciding to work only on square range shooting skills, I can save myself time by not training my firearms retention skills or my ability to handle malfunctions. One could argue that the most likely defense scenario would only involve needing to pull out my gun and hold someone at gunpoint. When I make decisions like that I am taking a risk. I must acknowledge that I will not be covered under different, though less likely, circumstances.

You decide what risks you are willing to take, and the coverage level you want to have. The better the coverage you have in your training, the more costly it will be (in actual cost of instruction but also in training time). We don’t all have thousands of hours a year to dedicate to our training.

Sometimes with insurance we can base our coverage decisions on who we are. Are you a safe or reckless driver? How safe are the neighborhoods you typically drive through or park in? Similarly, we can make educated guesses at our training needs. The men and women who sign up to risk their lives serving our country are willingly putting themselves into harm’s way. As a result they know more coverage is probably worth their time. The average citizen can avoid bad areas and make smart decisions to mitigate risk and decide how much coverage is warranted.

Ultimately we can never know exactly what will happen to us or what situations we may encounter. We must weigh the tradeoffs and understand the risks and rewards of the level of training we decide to pursue. I believe just about everybody should invest in basic coverage (shooting skills and basic hand to hand skills). Some will consider and invest in high coverage levels (gun grappling, vehicular skills, etc).

Make sure you aren’t skimping on your insurance, keep training.

What level of coverage to you enjoy? Do you have all your bases covered or do you only have basic coverage? Post a comment and let us know.

How I Doubled My Hamstring Flexibility In 4 Weeks

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Flexibility is a hugely important attribute for anyone who is self-defense minded. Not only does it decrease risk of injury, but it increases our overall mobility. Mobility is key to surviving a violent assault. If you ever find yourself in a gunfight where you need to maneuver around cover or concealment or even find yourself entangled with your attacker, flexibility will certainly come in handy.

My own flexibility has always been above average. Training in karate from my youth has given me the skill and flexibility to kick to my own head height without too much difficulty. Despite my relatively good flexibility, on a good day with a great warm up and a lot of stretching, I might do a little better than just touching my toes.

When I sat on the ground and attempted to touch my toes, if I was lucky, I could barely touch my toes with my fingers. Embarrassingly, I couldn’t even sit straight up with my legs outstretched, instead I naturally needed to lean back.

One of my goals for 2012 was to improve this stretch. My measurable goal was to be able to comfortably place my palms on the floor out in front of me stretching from the standing position. As a corollary to this, I wanted to be able to reach my hands past my feet when sitting, and outright grasp the balls of my feet.

How I got there

I was quite surprised to reach my goal much faster than I had expected and with relatively little effort.

I started my path to improve my flexibility by following this guide with a three minute stretching routine. It offers several tips for loosening up and boosting your stretch. I found very quickly that by elevating my heels, I was able to add several inches to my stretch. This quick improvement that occurred literally in a several minute period was a huge boost and helped me get psyched about improving. With all goals, seeing measurable progress is one of the best motivators.

This short three minute workout would become a part of my warmup for the next week or two, and served as a great starting point to get me moving in the right direction.

So how did I really reach my goal in only four weeks?

Surprise, surprise – I stretched.

Every chance I could get, I worked on this stretch. At least a half-dozen times a day I would get up from my workstation, turn to face outwards in my cubical, and work on touching my toes.

For anyone unfamiliar with good stretching practice, here is what I would recommend:

  1. Take a deep breath, relax, and hang.
  2. Exhale on the way down.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds and then press gradually and try to get a little further.
  4. Hold for another 5 seconds.
  5. Bend your knees and then stand up.

Rinse, and repeat a few times each session. That is really all it took. Five times a day, five days a week for four weeks is 100 sets. Push yourself a little further each time. You only need to make a 1% improvement each session. If you are trying to add 6 inches to your stretch, you need to improve only slightly more than 1/20th of an inch per session.

For me the results were incredible. I achieved my objective. I went from just being able to touch my toes to getting my palms completely on the floor. Stretching on the floor, I can now more than just touch my toes, but get my hands entirely past my feet. No small improvement, and it took just a little diligence over a short period of time.

Give it a try, and tell me how you do.

Implicit vs Explicit Action

How would you describe the way you train? I would venture to guess that most people train implicitly and intend to act explicitly if the time ever comes. Let’s define what I mean by implicitly and explicitly.

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Implicit

im·plic·it

[im-plis-it] adjective

1. implied, rather than expressly stated: implicit agreement.

When I refer to implicit, I mean that things happen on their own. When we train implicitly, our bodies take over and our conscious mind gets to go for a ride. In training this leads to a sort of training coma where your body just goes through the motions.

For example do you ever go to the range and just start blasting away without a plan or specific goal in mind? Probably not for serious training purposes. But on the street we hope to make our actions implicit. What I mean here is that our training should take over. If we have correctly identified and improved on our weaknesses, our skills should be able to take the reins in a critical incident without relying on explicitly conscious efforts.

Explicit

ex·plic·it

[ik-splis-it] adjective

1. fully and clearly expressed or demonstrated; leaving nothing merely implied;

If we want our real-world reactions to be implicit, we should conduct ourselves explicitly when training By this I mean that every action, movement, and thought we carry out in training should be intentional. Anything we repeat in our training is going to ultimately become a habit. Therefore, our goal should be to make sure we produce only good habits in our training. Training hundreds of repetitions without thought into each rep is going to create bad habits that will be hard to break.

On the street, on the other hand, explicit action is decidedly slower and less efficient. Drawing a pistol, or reacting to a knife should be quick, decisive, and thoughtless. The only explicit actions you should be taking in a life or death scenario should be the decisions about things like taking the shot, or whether to draw your pistol in the first place.

I never want to draw a pistol simply because some trained stimulus set some series of actions in motion. I want to make a conscious, deliberate decision to draw. Once I have made that decision, however, my training should do the work of putting the tools to use.

Do you train explicitly or implicitly?

Why I Train

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When I was a young kid, my first inspiration for training was (believe it or not) watching the Power Rangers on TV. After watching this show, I went to my parents and told them quite firmly that I wanted to study Karate.

While I obviously grew out of my Power Rangers phase, I am still training 18 years later. Karate became a part of my life that is so cemented in my being that any attempt to extricate it from my life would probably kill me.

I have also always been a gun fanatic. I just didn’t always know it. By my parents’ recollection I used to turn just about anything I could find into a gun in my youth. If I didn’t have a toy gun to play with, I would often just build one out of Legos. It was never something I really thought about too heavily, but when I turned 21 my affair with firearms would really begin.

Curiosity quickly gave way to obsession. Unlike the average gun enthusiast, I’m not purely about having a metric ton of cool guns and gear (although I do have a soft-spot for black rifles). I like having a collection of cool toys as much as the next guy, but more than that, I find myself ever drawn to training with them. The best times I have spent with firearms have been in classes, particularly in the classes with the lowest round counts.

My first course was Southnarc’s ECQC. We trained pre-fight verbal skills, clinch work, in-fight weapons access, wrestling in vehicles, and only one afternoon on the range. I probably shot 150 rounds in a three day course, and I had a ball. Training for some reason draws me like a high powered magnet. I can’t resist.

Why do I train? I don’t serve in a career that puts me in harm’s way. I’m a software engineer, not a soldier or cop. I don’t live in a high risk area either. I’m very unlikely to ever need the skills that I put so much time into practicing, though one never knows. It is better to have the ability to protect yourself and not need it than to need this ability and not have it.

I think that the desire to train can also be thought of in a historical context. Throughout the ages, mankind has sought out and studied warfare. At first the art of war was necessary and war was almost continuous. As time went on, individuals still chose to study and train, but it wasn’t necessarily because they expected to use these skills. Instead these capabilities gave people the ability to choose their own fate.

If you look at just about any period in history, the well armed and well practiced individuals were the only ones who could reliably lay claim to their own freedom.

I train not because I have to, but instead because I want to. I enjoy training, the sweat, the exhilaration of deflecting and returning blows, the smell of gunpowder in the morning.

Ultimately I train because it is a constant journey. You cannot reach perfection in the fighting arts. It is just not possible. I train because no matter how hard I work and study, there is always something more to learn. My training may have reached a point of diminishing returns, but it is a noble pursuit.

Why do you train?

Making Good Mistakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beginning Training Series: Setting Goals and Making Them Happen

Today I will be discussing setting goals and how to achieve them as part of my series on beginning training.

Setting Goals

Possibly the most important thing to be thinking about when you are trying to begin your training is to make sure you have clear goals set. Not setting goals is one of the worst things you can do. With no clear target, your training will be aimless and eventually will fall into the background. Face it, we all live very busy lives, and one of the first things to get sacrificed is our training time.

Here are some things to think about when setting goals:

Limit the total number of goals:

Having 20 goals means you probably won’t achieve most of them. The more goals you have, the more divided your time will be. Keep the number down somewhere between three and seven, and focus on those.

Prioritize your goals:

If you have a lot of goals, there will be times you’ll have to sacrifice some of them due to limited time. Make sure you have an idea which ones are more important to you.

Make them attainable:

I can set a goal to be able to do one million pullups and be able to hit a quarter from 200 yards one handed with a pocket pistol. This doesn’t mean I have any chance of succeeding. Pick goals and limit them in scope to what you can achieve. When you get there you can always set a new goal. Make sure your deadlines are realistic as well.

Use measurable goals:

Not all goals are created equal. A measurable goal will always be better than an unmeasurable one. What I mean by this is that if you have no way to measure your progress against a goal, then you are wasting your time. Rather than set a goal to ‘shoot faster’ I would set a goal like shooting a clean FAST in under 5 seconds.

Set a due date:

Goals without a due date tend not to be met. If you don’t have that deadline you won’t maximize your effort to get it done. A good way to keep motivated is to set intermediate deadlines and goals that help you achieve the big one. Try not to have more than a few months to your next deadline.

Attaining your goals

Once you have set your goals, you need to make sure you have a plan to get there. Can I really expect to achieve my goals if I set them and forget them? A good way to make sure you succeed is by using a training journal. Write down your goals and track your progress. If improving your shooting is part of your goal, keep track of not only your scores and times, but where your shots hit the target. You never know when looking at months of shooting history might lead to an epiphany or help you diagnose a hardware problem.

 The most important part of reaching your goals is to map each goal to a training activity or activities. If I want to get stronger, then I should be planning on setting aside time to strength train. If I want to speed up my draw-stroke, I need to plan on spending time training that. It isn’t rocket science, but it is easy to forget that you need to set up a program based on what you want to achieve.

 Now that you know what you need to do and what your priorities are, it is time to start setting up that program.

 Creating a program

 If you have a tight schedule, this may be more difficult. If your schedule is consistent, grab your calendar when you sit down to do this. You need to break out different blocks of time, and make sure each of the activities you selected for reaching your goals is fit into each one. You can make Mondays and Wednesdays gym days and Tuesdays and Thursdays combatives days with the weekend dedicated to shooting for example. This all comes down to you, what you are trying to achieve, and when you have time to do it.

 If your schedule isn’t as predictable, you might consider determining what the blocks are without scheduling them. You can then rotate which block you do whenever you have some time. Here is where you priorities come into play. If you cannot always do everything, start at the beginning of your list again every week. Make sure your higher priority activities are at the beginning of the list, and you should always be able to make time for your highest priority.

 Tracking results

 The second half of making sure that you achieve your goals is logging your progress. The key benefit to keeping the training journal is that you can see progress. Progress is a great motivator. However, don’t be discouraged if progress is slow. Never use your journal as an excuse to change your training plans every day. Give yourself a good several weeks to several months to decide if something is or isn’t working for you.

Everything in your training ultimately begins and ends with goals. First, you select them. Second, you determine the best way to achieve them. Next, you work towards achieving them. And finally you measure your success.

 What are your goals for your training in 2012? Please post a comment and share them.

Beginning Training Series: How to Get Started

Every New Year, many people around the world set new goals and make resolutions. If your resolution is to start training, or even just refresh your training paradigm, then you are in the right place. There is a lot to talk about on this subject, so I’ll be posting a series of five posts this week. Each of these posts will cover one aspect of your training for the coming year and help you create your own training plan.

 The subjects I will be covering:

  1. Setting Goals and Making Them Happen – Everything begins with some sort of goal We’ll discuss how to set measurable and attainable goals and how you can track your progress.

  2. Getting Your Fitness Off the Ground Level – While solid skills can mitigate poor fitness, optimal performance will always come from someone in optimum shape.

  3. Hand to Hand and Traditional Martial Arts – Sometimes your weapons are not available. The skills and conditioning attained from most fighting systems can be an asset when it matters.

  4. Getting Started With Weapons – Arming ourselves can give us a definitive advantage. We will discuss various weapon options you should consider training with.

  5. Putting It All Together – All these skills are useless unless you train to put them all together.

Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train

“Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train.” We’ve all heard this well-known slogan, and some of us even claim to live by it. What does it really mean, and how can we apply it to our training?

Fight Like You Train:

When push comes to shove, your training is what you fall back on in the real world. All of the great daydreams you’ve had about how you will deal with a given situation will remain just that – day dreams. When tested under pressure, your body will invariably return to what it knows the best. This simple fact indicates that if we end up in a violent confrontation, a fight in a tournament, or even an action pistol match, we will react exactly as we have trained. This can be good, or it can be bad.Avoid reinforcing bad habits because whatever you have practiced the most will be how you react when the pressure is turned up.

Train Like You Fight:

Because we have determined that we will react how we have trained, we need to take every precaution to make sure that the reaction that occurs in the real world is the one that we want to occur.

In the realm of shooting there are some very specific examples of “training like you fight.” With a pistol, when performing an emergency reload I do not want the habit of retaining my magazines. As a result I make sure to drop them. With a revolver, most shooters empty the cylinder onto the bench instead of dropping the shells. A bad habit in real life. Things like press-checking can also be bad habits if done in the “heat of battle.” Avoid ingraining these habits, even if it means inconveniencing yourself at the range to do so. Try to do everything the way you would in a fight, every time.

In the martial arts the same principle applies. The habit of dropping one’s guard or taking an extra step before kicking can be great ways to open yourself up for punishment against an experienced adversary. When fatigued we often revert to these habits because it is simply easier to do for most people. Incorrect repetitions like this ultimately make your unfatigued response the same.

 

The only way to verify that you are not building bad habits is to pressure test your training, find your weaknesses, and correct them. Don’t let convenience drive your training. The first part of the statement, “Fight like you train,” is an immutable truth. This is how the world works, and you cannot change it. “Train like you fight” is a recommendation, always train the way you want to fight, otherwise those bad habits will show up when you least want them.

What bad habits have you ingrained in training, and how have they cost you?

Your Opponent Is Training Harder Than You

Need some motivation to go hit the gym, the mat, or the range? Well here it is: your opponent is training harder than you! This might not always be the case, but there is at least a slight chance that this is true. Do you really want to leave something like your life to chance?

Somewhere out there someone is better prepared than you are. They may just be stronger or faster, but they might even have a better developed skill set. These advantages your adversary has on you could be the difference between you that causes you to lose, or worse – die.

When you go train today, this week, or anytime for that matter, tell yourself:

My opponent is training harder than I am.

Fix it. Push yourself for one more rep on an exercise. Ultimately in most endeavors you need to push yourself harder. No one else can make you put in the effort that you need. Determine what your limit is, and try and push that limit every time you train. If you can’t raise the bar you most likely aren’t trying hard enough. All true gains come from within.

Making your training sessions more effective is just a piece of the puzzle. Not only is your opponent training harder than you, he is training more than you too.

My opponent is training more than I am.

Tell yourself that every morning. Use it as inspiration to find time to squeeze in another session each week. If you tell yourself that one hour of practice a week is enough then you are destined to fail. If you want to get good at something, you need to do it a lot. Train hard, but also train often. Get your lazy ass out of bed and do something.

Quantity doesn’t always beat quality, however. Your opponent is also probably training smarter than you are too.

My opponent is training smarter than I am.

Could it be true? Dedicate some amount of time each week to research training techniques, tactics and instructors. You need to go beyond just volume and continually try and improve how you train in order to maximize the results. Don’t get spastic about your training. Stick with what you are doing long enough to see results, or the absence of results. Without some consistency you cannot evaluate what is really working and what is a bunch of hype.

 

I hope I have inspired you not only to go train, but to go train harder, longer, and smarter than you are now. Don’t give up, and train like your life depends on it. Someday it might.

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