Things I Learned At My Last IDPA Match

Shooting in cars is fun.

Shooting in cars is fun.

I have mentioned before and will likely mention again that I think competition definitely has value from a training perspective. Competition itself is not training, but competition can and often will help to pressure test your skills and point out what needs improvement.

Last week I shot my first ‘real’ IDPA match of the season (not including the classifier a few weeks ago), and I found that it helped me identify some serious weak spots in my own training. Looking back I really should have had a better idea that I needed to work on these skills, but context often helps to highlight what we don’t want to see.

The match also helped point out things that were really working for me. Hopefully I can pass on some of the lessons I learned from this match to help you with your training.

Cars Are A Special Problem

The match I shot was at Pioneer Sportsmen in Dunbarton, NH. These guys definitely know how to put on a great match. This is the second match I have shot there, and both times they have had a car as part of a stage. As you may know, I’m a proponent of training in and around vehicles. This match helped to show why training around cars is so important.

The car stage was straightforward – you started in the driver seat, hands at 10 and 2, and the pistol started loaded on the passenger seat. On the start you picked up the pistol and engaged 6 targets through the passenger side window with a round in each before making sure each target got a total of 3 rounds.

Watching the other competitors highlighted how uncomfortable many people are with shooting from a car. Some people shot one handed for lack of better positioning, and others had trouble getting the targets far to the right because of their position relative to the door column.

When you think about it, this stage was actually really simple. No seatbelts or holsters were involved, you didn’t have a passenger, and you didn’t need to debus the vehicle. All things that would make the stage even more complicated.

Lesson learned? Get some training relative to vehicles. I would recommend SouthNarc’s VCAST.

Low Light Training is a Necessity

The next lesson learned was a bit more personal. Besides having a car, the other great feature of this match was an indoor low light stage. This was actually my first time shooting in low light. While I didn’t totally bomb the stage, I did find that my low light skills were severely lacking.

I was slightly unprepared to light the targets with my pistol. I used a jaw index for my flashlight as that is how I have been practicing, and what is most natural for me. The problem with this is that holding the flashlight on my left while taking right hand corners, means that the light cast a shadow and didn’t properly illuminate my targets. Not only did the walls reflect a good amount of light back, but without good light it took me a lot longer to properly engage my targets.

To add insult to injury, my manipulations of the pistol with flashlight in hand were less than stellar. I should have turned the light off when reloading to hide my position, but I didn’t. Either way incorporating a flashlight occasionally into my dry-fire is in order, as is turning out the lights.

Using Appropriate Speed For Each Target

I did a fairly good job at not rushing the long shots, but on the other hand I probably could have engaged close targets faster than I did. Each target requires a different amount of time to engage based on its distance and position. Smoothly transitioning from close targets to far targets and vice-versa can be challenging.

I recently started spending more time shooting farther targets after my performance at my last classifier, but this match has made it clear that adding transitions between targets at a mix of ranges should also become part of my normal training routine.

Improving Confidence

The last thing I learned was that I need to work on improving my confidence at speed. I shot a relatively low number of points down, which is great, but it also means that I can probably speed up. If I can shoot a 0.3 second split on the 8” circle when shooting the F.A.S.T., then I should also be able to manage those splits on an IDPA target at a match.

This is a case of mindset and routine. I spend plenty of time drawing to low % targets like the 3×5 box on the F.A.S.T. but spend far less time drawing to and shooting 8” circles or targets at various distances (see above). The big lesson learned here is that spending time with different targets and working on pushing my limits is critical to boost my confidence so I can shoot faster.

These are the lessons I learned recently at my match. Have you competed recently? What did you learn?

Are Long Range Skills Valuable For Self-Defense?

Photo by AMagill

Most people will readily agree that if you are using a rifle for anything other than defending yourself in relatively close quarters, then it is probably not self-defense. Taking a shot at 300 yards is not easily construed as self-defense except for the most extreme of circumstances.

The simple conclusion to take from this is that working on skills for shooting farther than what self-defense ‘dictates’ is probably unproductive for our goals of preparing for self-defense scenarios. This is mostly true, but I believe that there is still plenty to be taken from long distance shooting that can be applied to running a gun in a fight.

Long distance shots might be unlikely but not impossible

Most gunfights occur in relatively short distances. Everything from bad breath scuffles at point blank range to 10 yards or farther. It is logical to assume that training for longer range shots would be counter productive.

But just because we are not as likely to take shots with our carry guns at 25 or 50 yards doesn’t mean that those cases can never happen. Keeping distance between yourself and an attacker is a great strategy. If someone is shooting at you from those distances do you really want to get closer?

Pistols have drop too

Most of us will never get into a gunfight with a rifle at full-distance rifle ranges. Unless you are serving overseas, you are unlikely to be defending yourself from an attacker taking shots at long distance. So what is the value to knowing how to shoot at these extended distances?

One key to mastering your rifle is learning about trajectory and bullet drop. Bullets don’t fly flat, and as a result you need to compensate for the path of the bullet when shooting. You might not find yourself needing to apply these concepts with a rifle, but what about your pistol?

Most of us shoot our pistols at distances where any sort of drop is negligible, but when you push out to farther ranges you will experience bullet drop. If you want to be capable of using that pistol at all practical (and maybe some unpractical) distances, you need to understand the trajectory of your rounds. There is no better way to explore and understand this concept than long distance rifle shooting. When you understand trajectory with a rifle, you can apply the same concepts to learn what your pistol does at distance.

Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals

Finally, practicing at distance is a great way to practice your fundamentals and push yourself beyond your current limitations. Long distance shots require great sight alignment and excellent trigger control. If you can make a torso shot at 50 yards with a handgun, then making the same shot at 5 yards can only be easier.

Even if you don’t think long distance shots are likely to occur in a self-defense situation, there is plenty of value to be had practicing these shots. Whether it’s to be prepared for the unlikely event you need to take a long shot, or just to reinforce the fundamentals, practicing at extreme distances is a great way to push your limits and improve your skills.

Do you practice long distance shooting?

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!

Why Precision In Training Language Matters

Image by ardelfin

Who uses training language? Teachers and instructors definitely use training language, but so do students. Those who teach or instruct are conducting a transfer of knowledge to their students. Generally this involves some training language whether they know it or not. Students ask questions, help each other, and take notes throughout classes. All of these exchanges on training subject matter will use training language to some degree.

Precision

Precision might not be the first word that comes to mind when you think about communication, but it accurately describes how anyone should converse in a learning environment. As you probably know, precision and accuracy refer to two separate concepts. Accuracy refers to your ability to hit, or closeness to the target. Precision on the other hand refers to how reliably you hit the same spot. You can be precise while not accurate. If I group all my shots far off the target I was not accurate, but I was precise. Accuracy and precision are different concepts, but having precision makes finding accuracy a lot easier.

Learning new concepts is much like marksmanship. In marksmanship we measure our success based on our group size and closeness to the target. When we have a precise group, we can adjust the sights to get accuracy. In our training on the other hand, it is a little harder to adjust. How does a student go from doing something precisely wrong to performance that is both precise and accurate? This is where precision in training language gives us an advantage. Precise language means we are better able to understand exactly what the student is talking about. When you understand where the students mind is going, it is much easier to correct them.

Inherent Meaning and Connotation

Another reason precise training language matters is that in most subjects words are carefully selected for their underlying connotation. Different words with the same meaning can carry different connotations, and ultimately the words we choose can help or hurt what we are trying to teach.

To use a simple marksmanship example, we can talk about slings. When you use a sling to improve your shooting with a rifle you can make the sling “tight” or you can make it “snug.” Both words convey the same basic meaning, but snug implies something different than tight. When someone hears that their sling should be “tight,” they are more likely to take this to an extreme that contorts their position and defeats the purpose of the lesson. “Snug” has a slightly different connotation that often results in more accurate employment of the sling. In this way, choosing one word over the other can make a big difference in the message conveyed.

Training is a complex world where many concepts overlap, and sometimes even contradict each other. When everyone uses precise and consistent language to describe things it helps prevent confusion.

Ease of Communication

If you look at flying, you will notice that a standard language is used: English. Standardization simplifies communication. Imagine putting 20 pilots and air traffic controllers into a room. If they all speak different languages you might get them to understand each other eventually, but it definitely slows down the process.

A similar concept applies in training. If you take only students who already speak English, and have them all use different terminology (training language) for everything, you will certainly slow down the flow of ideas. Where the flow hasn’t slowed, you’ll probably find assumptions and inaccuracies. You see this all the time in many martial arts systems where commands and techniques are always referred to in the language of the system’s origin. In my karate class for example, I always use the Japanese commands and terminology because it is the universal language of the system I teach.

Training language without precision on all sides of the discussion loses its value very quickly. If we aren’t going to refer to things by certain names, and use those names all of the time, we might as well not use names for anything. Precision in training language, on the other hand, accelerates learning. For those that instruct, remember that the words you use matter. Likewise, students should pay careful attention to the language used when receiving instruction, and make sure to implement the same terminology in your discussions with peers.

How do you use training language?

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.

Exaggerating the Basics

Aim small, hit small.

Have you heard the line before? It’s a very basic concept that amounts to aiming at a smaller target (or a smaller area on a large target) in order to increase your overall accuracy. But this concept stretches far further than that.

Why do we want to aim small when we train? Adrenaline.

Unless you’re at that public range with the dope with no muzzle control, your adrenaline level is minimal when training. The pressure is relatively low when you are working on the basics. But what happens when you need to recall these skills on the street?

Adrenaline is a funny ‘feature’ that we developed long ago as humans evolved. It gives us great strength and speed and helps us survive many life or death situations. Unfortunately for mankind most of our evolution occured before the genesis of modern combat. Fine motor skills only became relevant to our life and death struggles relatively recently. Adrenaline does some funny things to our fine motor skills, and just about everything in shooting is fine motor skills.

We train with smaller targets or by following this “aim small, hit small” philosophy because it leaves room for error. If we hold ourselves to higher standards when training, then we can afford the inevitable involuntary degradation that occurs when our training meets the real world.

Hits count, and you need to guarantee them when your life or the lives of others depend on them. Can you really afford to be just good enough on the range?

Putting it to practice

For shooting it is pretty clear how to apply this concept to your training. The simplest way is to mark your full size silhouette with a smaller bullseye. Even a circle drawn with a magic marker will do. When training only accept hits on this smaller circle rather than anywhere on the silhouette. This smaller target will require you to slow down and make sure you hit. If you can hit a smaller bullseye quickly, it stands to reason that you should be able to hit the shilouette when the shit starts flying.

Another way I put this to practice actually saves me money. I print out smaller silhouettes and post them at the same distances I would use for the larger ones. This would have the same effect as shooting from a greater distance with the original targets. This forces you to practice shooting at a smaller target. You must try to hold yourself to a higher standard on a reduced size target or you risk the opposite effect. Keep in mind this cannot completely replace your use of full size targets at actual distance, especially when pressure testing yourself.

Applied elsewhere

Despite bringing this up as a shooting concept, it absolutely does not end there. When training a few years at a Kyokushin summer camp I had the fortune to train with Shihan Cameron Quinn. During one of the sessions he put great emphasis on the same subject. He told us not to aim for the chin with a punch, but to aim for the gnat on the hair on the mole on the chin. This is the same idea of aiming small, hitting small. Precision enhances your efficacy in all arenas of combat.

I was also trained as a student of Kyokushin to “Exaggerate your kihon(basics)”. This exaggeration serves two purposes. Firstly by exaggerating you are reinforcing correctness. When we have the opportunity to train without the pressure we should capitalize on the opportunity and make sure our technique is correct. Want to see some poor technique? Just add pressure. Additionally adrenaline has a nasty side effect of shortening muscles. This shortening means that a technique that isn’t exaggerated in practice will be tiny if not non-existent when applied to the real world in real stress. Unless you think T-rex arms are the best self-defense technique you can see really easily how this can be a problem.

This principle can be applied to just about anything that is practiced under low pressure but needed in a high pressure environment. Make sure everything is as good as it possibly can be in training so when you need it, your training won’t let you down.

How have you applied this concept in your training? Join the conversation by posting a comment below.

 

 

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