Some Thoughts on Improving the Draw-stroke

Photo Credit: DrJimiGlide

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

Drawing a handgun generally requires at least 6 distinct steps:

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

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

Breaking it down

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking it down some more

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

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

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

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

Putting it back together

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

Speeding it up

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

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

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

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

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

Best of The Web 4/27/12

This week provided some excellent posts on training. Below I have rounded up some of my favorite blog posts from across the web over the past 7 days. Please feel free to email me if you have come across a great post that you would like to share.

Permission to Miss (pistol-training.com) – Todd at pistol-training.com makes some excellent points about working on improving speed. Sometimes when pushing your boundries you need to expect to miss now and again.

The scars of others should teach us caution (When The Balloon Goes Up) – WTBGU touches on a subject I feel very strongly about. Training scars – in other words bad habits that are created by the ways we train – have plenty of opportunities to form. Good training will mitigate the formation of these training scars.

Sandbags: Unconventional Tools for Functional Strength (ITS Tactical) – Jake Saenz wrote an excellent primer to training with sandbags. Functional strength is crucial to preparing for self-defense encounters (if you want to be well prepared that is). Sandbags provide dynamic resistance and get us out of the mechanical form of conventional exercises.

High Speed Low Drag…At the Gas Station.

Photo by xandert

Does the order in which we do things really matter? And how important is it to be efficient when we go about accomplishing everyday tasks? Sometimes order and efficiency won’t help you, but sometimes they can mean the difference between life and death.

The military drills into young recruits a specific order for getting dressed. The idea is to ensure preparedness by making sure the necessary items like pants and shoes get on first. These methods are ingrained in the minds of fresh recruits so when under pressure (say in a sudden attack) they make the right choices in getting dressed. Going into battle without your pants is probably a bad thing in most cases.

I would assert that this same principle applies to other facets of our lives. If not to ensure we are best prepared for a given situation, an efficient process will at the very least save time and energy.

Getting Into and Out of Vehicles

You might not currently think of them this way, but vehicles are a death trap. They confine you into a small area and, worse yet, you are often in less than ideal circumstances when you are getting into and out of them. Two things are very important with a vehicle: be able to get out of it quickly, and be able to get into it quickly.

Streamlining embus and debus (getting into and out of vehicles respectively) is important because we want to minimize the time that we are preoccupied with our vehicle instead of our surroundings. You can practice these actions until they are second nature, but we want to make sure they are quick.

For me getting out of a vehicle begins with my left hand across my chest, slipping under the seat belt. My right hand immediately goes for the belt buckle. This position should be pretty familiar to any shooter who practices their draw stroke. My goal here is to clear the seat belt quickly, and efficiently.

Once there I unbuckle the belt with my right hand while sweeping the belt away with my left. If the vehicle is running, my right hand goes for the keys while my left makes its way to the door handle. By doing this I enable myself to very quickly transition from turning the vehicle off to opening the door.

The car is turned off, and I remove the key while my left hand opens the door fairly aggressively. I secure the door with my left foot, followed by my left hand. Once the door is secured from moving I can lift myself out of the vehicle and step back from the door, closing it with my left hand.

This whole process is mirrored for the passenger side. Getting into the vehicle is similar but in reverse. If possible I have my keys in hand prior to arriving at the vehicle. My left hand opens the door, and then posts it open. I get into the car, closing the door with my left hand. My right hand engages the key, and I put on my seat belt once rolling.

Efficiency getting into and out of a vehicle is a life saving skill, and the order in which you do things certainly does matter. Ultimately you want to minimize the amount of time you sit in a stationary vehicle. Like getting dressed, the order in which we complete the tasks associated with getting in or out of a vehicle should result in us accomplishing that task quickly, while also preventing us from getting caught with our pants down. If you want to learn more about embus and debus seek out instruction from Southnarc, I cannot recommend his classes highly enough.

ATMs

You probably already realize that an ATM is a great place to get mugged. You withdraw some money, immediately making you a valuable target. I prefer to use an ATM that has a door that closes (and locks) to an exposed ATM. The order in which you should do things to access this ATM will not change a whole lot either way.

When you roll up to an ATM you want to make sure you have your card ready. Whether it is to gain access to the ATM building or just the ATM itself, you’ll need it. You want to minimize exposure, and having the card ready before you get to the ATM is a great way to do this. Stopping at the ATM and hanging out in your car is not a good solution. Every moment you are fixated on something other than being aware of your surroundings increases the likelihood of finding yourself in a bad situation.

If you arrive in a vehicle, getting out of the vehicle quickly and efficiently is key. Get the card in the machine quickly, and use the down time where it is getting ready to request a pin to scan the surroundings. If all is safe, punch in the pin and get it done. Any time the ATM is processing and you are waiting for it, take advantage of this time to keep checking your surroundings. Get that card back as quickly as possible, and don’t worry about putting the money in your wallet or your card away until you are back in your vehicle and out of there.

If you are going the safer route and using an enclosed ATM, your job is much simpler. Having the card out means you can get into the building quickly, and get the door closed. Once inside you have a safer environment to take your time getting your money. Make sure you check your route on the way back out of the ATM before leaving. When you do leave, don’t stop to do something (this is not the time to tie your shoe, answer a call from your mom, or trim your fingernails), get right back in your car or head to your next destination.

Using an ATM presents many minor challenges and risks. These risks are mitigated by the efficiency with which you act.

Getting Gas

When you stop to get gas the same principles apply. We have yet another opportunity to get out of the car quickly and efficiently. Again, having your card (or cash) ready helps to minimize how long we spend interacting with the pump and our wallets (and perhaps the cashier) and maximize the amount of time we can spend with our heads up and alert.

Getting back into the vehicle works the same way. Get in efficiently, and get the car moving ASAP. If you are like my wife and NEED to put the card and receipt away before you drive off, get the doors locked, the car on, and put the car in drive before you start fiddling with your wallet. If a bad situation arises, you are only a pedal press away from putting the car in motion.

You can apply this concept to many facets of our lives. We can usually create a better tactical situation by finding ways to do things more efficiently. Knowing how to streamline your efforts and take advantage of better efficiency can minimize your exposure to risk and give you a much better chance of making it through the day.

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!

What’s More Important – Speed or Reliability?

Waving my arms around like wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men doesn’t tend to get the job done. (Image by elvissa)

Speed is king. No matter what defensive system you study, they all converge on several points. One of these points of convergence is speed. 

In shooting this is a matter of how quickly can I draw, reload, or get follow up shots. In other martial arts, the speed of a punch, kick, or your footwork in general is constantly improving. Speed will always be a constant goal in your training.

Reliability is often forgotten, but always there. Reliability doesn’t just refer to how reliable your pistol is, but can also refer to how reliable YOU are. When I think of reliability, two other concepts come to mind: consistency and effectiveness. Can you consistently perform the motions you want to? Can you effectively get the job done with the technique at hand? Reliability may not be in the foreground of your training, but you should strive to make it so.

 Unfortunately, it is easy for speed and reliability to be at odds with each other when training.

 Going Too Fast

The saying: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” is often heard in many circles. This principle boils down to not going so fast that you make mistakes. For example if I am attempting to draw a pistol too quickly and don’t get a proper grip, I may get it out quicker, but I do so with the cost of making more than one shot difficult. An even more obvious example is in reloading. If you rush and fumble to get the magazine into your pistol, you are probably going to waste a lot more time than if you smoothly insert it the first time.

 Fast Won’t Always Work

Sometimes the fastest way of doing things won’t always work. Assumptions about the state of something can often slow you down in the long run. With my pistol, magazines don’t always drop free. I prefer to make stripping the magazine from my pistol a part of my reloading habit to mitigate this. To practice without manual stripping and always assume the magazine will drop free might be faster when this works. But for those times when it doesn’t drop free, this assumption creates more of a headache than it saves.

 Fast Is Not Always Effective

In the martial arts, speed is often what makes a technique effective. Throwing an effective punch, for example, is rooted in a quick transfer of energy (not tensing the shoulders). On the other hand, going fast isn’t always the most effective way to do something. Some strikes can be done too quickly. These strikes can look very flashy, but at the same time have no oomph behind them. Waving my arms around like wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men doesn’t tend to get the job done.

Whatever you are training or training for, you need to consider reliability. Never train something to be so fast that you cannot be effective, consistent, or reliable in your execution. Most actions will get faster through practice, but avoid going too fast too soon. Perfect practice makes perfect, and going too fast is far from perfect.

 How do you balance speed and reliability in your training? Post a comment and let us know.

In Speed, Less is More

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

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

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

Starting slow

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

Accelerating your techniques

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

Maintaining speed

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

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

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

WP Like Button Plugin by Free WordPress Templates