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.

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.

Quantity vs Quality

A few months ago when I started this blog, I used the blog’s launch as a way to boost my own training. I have always enjoyed training in various ways for self-defense, but with this new mission in life to encourage others to train, I gave myself a great reason to take a look at my own training regimen. I have (happily) found ways to increase my own training time, and do so on a more regular schedule. One significant area of my training that has dramatically increased is my dry fire practice.

I knew dry fire was something I should be practicing, but I never seemed to have the time. Now I dry fire 5+ days a week. My sessions have been fairly long (30+ minutes at a time) consisting of dozens of reps for various skills. Depending on the day and my particular routine, I might end up practicing hundreds of repetitions.

What I’ve noticed recently is that after the first 10 or 20 reps my practice seems to start going down the drain. Each rep becomes less perfect than the one before it, and the focus dissipates. The part of my brain that knows about the one million other tasks that need to be done that day takes over and tries to influence me to get done sooner.

Over the past few days I’ve started changing up my routine, and instead of working on a few skills per day for many reps, I’m working fewer reps on a larger variety of skills. I notice that I get less fatigued with any given skill and I maintain interest much longer. Instead of 50 or 100 reps for each skill I practice 10 or 20.

This observation of mine has led me back to the question of quantity vs quality. Is it better to practice many imperfect reps or fewer reps that are closer to perfect? I have discussed on this blog the topic of perfect practice makes perfect.

Where exactly do we draw the line between quantity and quality? Would practicing one perfect rep a day be better than 10 mostly perfect, or are we better off doing 200 far from perfect reps?

One Take

Like all things in life, training is a balancing act between quantity and quality. The guiding factor for determining how much quantity we can handle is fatigue.

When we train we all suffer from fatigue eventually. We might have fatigue in our focus, our bodies, or our interest. To get the most out of our training, we need to maximize how much we can train before fatigue overpowers our gains.

Focus

For me focus can be one of the first things to go. The more reps I practice the more diluted every rep becomes. It is easy to focus on a single rep with the intention to make it as perfect as I can. Ten reps are a little harder, but provide more benefit than practicing something once. Try focusing for 100 reps, and you’ll be more likely to lose your focus on at least one.

Body

Muscle fatigue can set in with just about any physical activity. Even dry fire can cause fatigue in the arms from holding a pistol up, working the trigger, or practicing presenting the pistol. As fatigue builds it gradually introduces more error into your practice. Just as with focus, it’s easy to do one rep, but 100 might tire you out. When you get tired, expect to make mistakes.

Interest

Finally, interest wanes the more you practice. Like focus and your body, interest will become fatigued with time. If you practice the same skill for hundreds of repetitions, will you bore yourself? An uninterested student is less likely to put in the optimal effort. How many reps can you do before you get bored?

When you train, balance your fatigue with the gains you want to make. Find the point at which you can train enough to have the number of reps improve your skills while not fatiguing yourself to the point of practicing incorrectly. Make every rep perfect because you are focused, interested, and not exhausted and you have a higher likelihood of improving than if you are unfocused, disinterested and dead tired.

Where is your balance between quantity and quality?

Train in All Wardrobes

When you train for self-defense, the goal is to be ready to defend yourself whenever or wherever you may need to. Part of ensuring this preparedness is to train in the entire variety of clothing that you may wear. Drawing a pistol while wearing a vest for concealment is far different than drawing from underneath a t-shirt. Still harder is drawing from underneath a variety of winter layers. Unless you live somewhere warm and tropical you will probably be wearing multiple layers at some point during the year.

Image by frankh

Adapt

Self-defense is all about adapting. In this case you need to either adapt your training to work with what you wear, or adapt what you wear to meet the criteria of what you train for. If option two is available for you, take it. The narrower your set of wardrobe choices, the easier it will be to train for each possible scenario.

The rest of us need to be just as prepared for the day we wear a t-shirt as we are for the day we conceal in a tuckable holster in a suit. Take some time to practice at least occasionally in all modes of dress that you use.

Go to the range in a suit, you say?

I would rather not dirty my best suit at the range, so the way I achieve this type of practice is through dry-fire. Each day I take some time to dry-fire wearing whatever clothing I happened to wear that day. If it is a weekend, I’ll be drawing from beneath a t-shirt or a sweatshirt. During the week it might be a polo or a button down shirt. If I want to practice drawing from a suit I might need to set aside a special day to do so – I don’t wear suits very often.

Not just pistol training

The same training concept applies to more than just training to use a firearm for self-defense. You should practice any self-defense skill in the type of clothing you typically wear. Many martial artists spend their time training in various dogi and other uniforms. These uniforms are usually designed for maximum mobility. Compare this to most business wear and you’ll find many differences. Most business attire will hamper mobility to some extent, so it is a good idea to consider your limitations if you need to defend yourself while going about your day. You aren’t very likely to be caught in a life or death situation while wearing a dogi.

Training occasionally in your street clothes can be enlightening. You will find that different articles of clothing all have different effects on your mobility. It is better to know you can’t throw that kick or punch now while you are training than to discover it at the worst possible moment.

Wardrobe choice is just another aspect of train like you fight, fight like you train. In order to be truly prepared for self-defense, we must identify the scenarios we are most likely to encounter and practice accordingly. Our clothing is a big factor to consider when envisioning these possibilities. Make sure you understand your limitations in all modes of dress – and then figure out how to minimize them.

Stop Trying To Shoot Better

When I went shooting a few days ago I came to a familiar realization. Like many times before, I realized that when I try too hard I tend to screw things up. The more I ramp up the pressure on myself, the less smooth my actions become, and the more mistakes I make in my efforts to perform better.

Last weekend I was at the range working on improving my draw stroke and slide-lock reloads. To practice these skills I was using a 1Reload2 drill (draw, fire one shot, reload and fire two more). I was doing this drill with my shot timer in an attempt to measure how I was performing and push myself towards a faster time. What I found was that the harder I tried, the more often I would flub the draw or screw up the reload. My actions became jerky and not the smooth and calm movements I had emphasized in my dry-fire practice. Ultimately this hurt my time instead of improving it.

The same problems occur in my marksmanship training. These days I spend much more time teaching others how to shoot rifles than I spend shooting them myself. I’m trying to change that, but whenever I do get a chance to shoot a rifle I feel like the pressure on myself to do well is a huge barrier to success. I often start with a decent shot group, but the problem is knowing that I can do much better. I push myself to the point where my performance just gets worse, causing me more and more frustration. Eventually I have to pull myself back from the stress of trying too hard, and force myself to simply relax.

Rifle marksmanship, especially when you are talking about shooting using a sling, is ultimately about being relaxed. Let your bones and the sling do the support work while you align your body so you can make the shot. As they say, shooting is very much a mental game at this point. The harder you (or I in this case) actively try the more likely muscles are to become involved. I fuss the shot and as a result of trying too hard my groups open up.

Relax

If you find yourself having this problem yourself, go back to the basics. Be calm and collected and stop trying so hard. You’ll usually find that going a little slower and not making mistakes is actually faster than going as fast as you can and struggling the whole way there.

We put pressure on ourselves to do better with every shot, to increase our speed and get tighter groups. This pressure ultimately serves to do nothing other than to make things more difficult.

Personally I shoot the best when I have no expectations for myself. A couple years ago I had a chance to shoot my AR15 out to 600 yards. I was having trouble seeing the target through my iron sights and figured my rough elevation adjustment would be off anyway, so I really didn’t expect to even hit the target. I relaxed and shot a carefree group by the basics, and I was totally shocked when I saw the great group on my target.

I am fastest and most efficient when I worry less about speed and instead just worry about being smooth and practicing the fundamentals. You too may be surprised at the difference when you stop trying so hard to shoot your best. Focus on the technique rather than trying to make each shot perfect.

Remember slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Does self-imposed pressure negatively impact your performance? Let us know and post a comment below!

Training as Insurance

Image by Timmo885

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.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Image by ppdigital

You have been told since your youth that “practice makes perfect.” What you have been told is wrong. In reality practice only makes permanent. Or maybe more accurately practice makes less forgettable. On the other hand, perfect practice does make perfect (or closer to perfect at least). The real difference is that a deliberate effort to practice every repetition correctly will make it easier to perform correct repetitions. But practice crappy technique and you’ll only achieve “perfection” at crappy technique.

Annie Murphy Paul wrote a great article on this myth of ‘Practice Makes Perfect’. She points out how you must be deliberate in your practice, or you shouldn’t bother practicing at all. If you are not deliberate, you end up working only on your strengths. Good practice will involve self-evaluation and a targeting of those things you perform poorly to bring them up to snuff.

The best pianists, they determined, addressed their mistakes immediately. They identified the precise location and source of each error, then rehearsed that part again and again until it was corrected. Only then would the best students proceed to the rest of the piece. “It was not the case that the top-ranked pianists made fewer errors at the beginning of their practice sessions than did the other pianists,” Duke notes. “But, when errors occurred, the top-ranked pianists seemed much better able to correct them in ways that precluded their recurrence.”

Read more: http://ideas.time.com/2012/01/25/the-myth-of-practice-makes-perfect/#ixzz1l2PwCLED

This little tidbit about pianists can be directly applied to almost anything. Especially combatives training. When we find weaknesses in what we are doing, we should put a little extra effort into trying to address those weaknesses. It reminds me very much of the old adage about the beginner training until he gets it right, and the expert training until he doesn’t get it wrong.

I have been applying the same theory in my own training. My reloads have been slow and unwieldy, so I have been putting a lot of time and effort into streamlining them. What I have found is that when I make a major mistake, slowing down and really focusing on the correct way to do what I screwed up is a good way to help get over the speed bump and hopefully prevent the mistake from coming back.

To me, deliberate practice comes down to a focus issue. Some people practice a lot. They might spend hours every day practicing, but without laser sharp focus on what you are doing in order to make every rep perfect, you are doing two things. First, you are building a very well practiced bad habit. Every bad rep you practice is one more rep to fight against when you need to go back and break your bad habit. The other thing you are doing is wasting time.

Twenty minutes of deliberate practice is worth far more than twenty hours of halfhearted crap practice.

The take away message from all of this is that shorter, more focused training sessions are probably more ideal than long, aimless ones. Have a plan when you practice, and make the session short enough that you can focus on every rep.

Do you practice deliberately?

4 Tips For Breaking Bad Habits Before They Break You

I’m not talking about smoking, nail biting, overeating, or any other common bad habit in life. I’m talking about the bad habits that have formed in our technique or our training practices.

Image by Charles & Clint

We fight like we train, so everything we do under the pressure of a real fight becomes an automatic reaction. Your automatic response to an attack will be exactly what you have practiced the most in reaction to that stimulus. If you practiced the best possible response perfectly, you have nothing to worry about. But if you practiced something that is ineffective, wrong, or just different than your ideal response, you now have a habit to break.

Breaking habits that we have created through training can be similar to breaking other habits we develop in life, but there are some key differences.

 1. You need to practice the correct method 2 or 3 times the number of reps you have practiced incorrectly.

Every bad repetition you have ever done will count against you. The longer you have been practicing the incorrect technique, the harder it will be to fix it. If you truly want to break a habit and replace it with a new one, you need to practice this new skill 2 or 3 times as much as you have practiced what you are trying to replace.

This is a daunting task and will require a significant commitment. If you have been practicing something long enough, you should determine if the habit is even worth trying to replace. If your habit is something you can live with, it might be easier to avoid change all together.

But don’t shy away from breaking a bad habit just because it is old. Doing something wrong for a long time doesn’t mean you have been practicing it every day. I’ve heard this excuse numerous times teaching people to shoot rifles. Holding a rifle a certain way for twenty years doesn’t mean you practiced it that way every day for those twenty years. Suck it up and make the change because you are wrong, and the habit is correctable.

On the other hand, the skills I am practicing in my dry fire routine will probably become permanent over the next 20 years of daily practice. I must make sure I am constantly course correcting so I don’t make a habit of the wrong thing.

 2. Consistency is key

The more consistent you are in your practice, the easier the change will be. Inconsistency has two problems. First, it will make reprogramming your habits take longer. Second, it can result in confusion. Your body automatically responds how it has been trained to. Having more than one response trained and “at the ready” can lead to confusion as to which to do when a situation demands an immediate reaction. Merging two reactions in one is never a good thing.

 3. Make it conscious

 In order to do something consistently correctly, we need to make it a conscious effort. This breaks the automatic process by which our body normally reacts. By actively thinking about what we are doing, we can change it. Without consciously attempting to make this change, we will instead end up falling back into our old habit, preventing the correction we are trying to make.

 4. Start slow

Part of making something conscious is to start slow. Slow down your repetitions so you can control every aspect of the movement. You want to make every little detail of what you are doing perfect. Anything less than perfect will create more bad habits that will need to be broken. Practice in itself does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Practice only makes permanent. Get every rep right.

Breaking habits is a difficult proposition. If it was easy, hardly anyone would smoke, people wouldn’t overeat, and everyone’s draw stroke would be perfect. Habits can form very easily, but they are exponentially harder to break as time goes on. The best way to break a bad habit is to avoid creating it in the first place. Failing that, take the above advice and keep going. Forming new habits is just a matter of time.

Have you formed any habits in training you are trying to break?

Breathe Like Your Life Depends On It

Image by jeltovski

Do you breathe?

Breathing is a part of everything we do, from Sudoku to weightlifting.  In some activities, how we breathe is far more important than in others. Breathing a certain way will generally not improve your performance in Sudoku, but it is absolutely crucial when you hit the weights.

In the realm of self-defense, breathing is always very important. Most martial systems put a strong emphasis on how and when to breathe. Marksmanship for both pistols and rifles relies on a slight respiratory pause prior to breaking the shot.

 One thing that often gets overlooked in most self-defense circles is how your breathing impacts your state of mind. When you breathe in, your mind and body tends to be in a weak state. When you breathe out it is in a strong state.

 Inhaling causes your lungs to fill with air. Your center of gravity rises, and your mind is less focused. Your reaction times will be slower than if you are exhaling.

 Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? This can only happen when you are full of air. This is yet another reason that we want to spend less time breathing in.

 We naturally tend to breathe in when we are startled. You have probably experienced this walking around a corner and crashing into someone, or reaching for a door handle as someone walks through from the other side. You are startled, you breathe in, and your mind scrambles to recover and regain control of the situation.

 In the office, being startled like this has relatively little cost to our well-being other than a bruised ego perhaps. On the other hand, reacting this poorly to being startled on the street could be the fine line that separates life and death.

 To combat this, we want to build a reaction of exhaling when startled.

 Practice exhaling

 Practice responding with an out breath on some sort of stimulus. When you exhale, you want it to be controlled and forceful. Think of this as an immediate dump of all extra oxygen in your lungs. There is a finite beginning, middle, and an end to our breath. It should end abruptly.

 Reinforcing

 Once you have some practice with this type of breathing, a great way to reinforce this is on the street or in the office. I used to work in an office building that had many blind corners, and plenty of people who would always cut these corners closely, even on the “wrong side” of the “road”. This led to many startling near-collisions and created the perfect environment to practice reacting calmly. When startled in this type of situation, an out breath and some smooth footwork allows you to regain your composure and continue on unimpeded.

Training your body to react calmly and decisively when startled will improve your likelihood of survival on the street. Most of the time you can avoid the situation entirely by being aware of your surroundings. When this isn’t possible, how you react to the unexpected can be the difference between life and death.

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.

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