Best of the Web 5/11/12

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

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

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

 

Varied Instruction: Reducing the Toolbox

Photo by DrJimiGlide

When studying to defend yourself, there is a trade-off to be made between depth and breadth of skills. How much do you specialize in your skills, and how many different skills do you need to be sufficiently prepared? The answer lies somewhere in between the two extremes. You need enough depth to be proficient under pressure with the tools you choose to carry, yet you must also have skills to enable you to defend yourself in a variety of situations.

The real question is how much depth or breadth do you need instruction-wise?

There are a lot of great instructors out there with a lot of knowledge. Is training with a single instructor sufficient, or is there value to be had by training with a variety of instructors?

Unfortunately there is a lot more gray area here between seeking out and training with a single instructor, and training with them all.

When you start training, you have an obligation to yourself to seek out a solid variety of instructors. The goal in the beginning is to find an instructor who knows what he or she is talking about, but can also convey it in a manner that you can absorb.

There is also the matter of finding the material that is best adapted to you and your philosophies. I want to learn skills and techniques suited to my body type, and not all systems will suffice for that.

Once that first real instructor is found, do you continue to seek out other instructors and build that variety of learning experiences?

I think that ultimately depends on your goal. The problem with training with only one instructor is that no one has all the answers. The best gun guy isn’t likely to be the best knife guy, and he probably isn’t the best grappler either.

Training is your own journey and process where you collect what you have learned and take the best of each discipline or teacher and build your own system, much in the spirit of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do.

The reason to train with a variety of instructors is not because you can build up the size of your skills ‘toolbox’ by constantly adding more techniques. Actually it is quite the contrary. Take the things that work from each instructor, or better yet double your focus on the things that are overlapped by the instructors.

Like the old adage goes: “In the mind of the beginner there are many possibilities, in the mind of the master there are few”.

Multiple instructors ensure you get the best from each, and allow you to throw away the worst from each as well.

How varied is the instruction you seek out?

Do You Spend More Time on Specialized or Generalized Skills?

Photo by DrJimiGlide

Every defensive skill can be placed into one of two categories, specialized skills and generalized skills. General skills are skills that apply in many situations or are foundational in that they are used as a basis for the specialized skills. The more situations a skill might apply to, the more general that it is.

Specialized skills on the other hand have fewer situations where they can be used. The less likely it is to be used, or more specific the skill is, the more specialized that it is.

When we train we are constantly determining what skills are worth an investment, and how to divide our time between them.

The more likely a skill is to be used, the more time you want to invest

Generally speaking, the skills you are most likely to need should be trained the most. For example a normal two-handed draw stroke or emergency reload have a higher probability of being useful than say a weak hand only emergency reload. Even more likely to be used are verbal skills for defusing situations and dealing with unknown contacts. The more constraints you put on when a skill is used, the less time you should spend on that skill.

You cannot ignore the specialized skills

Just because you are less likely to need certain specialized skills doesn’t mean you can completely ignore them. You don’t want to be figuring out how to do that one-handed reload when you can’t afford a mistake. Instead make sure these skills make it into your training regime occasionally so they get some practice time.

Find balance in your training

Adding these skills into your training routine should be done somewhat scientifically. It is up to you to find your own balance between generalized and specialized skills.

Most general skills will help you with the specialized ones. For example, if I am going to use a firearm for self-defense, one of the most general things that comes to mind is trigger control. I learn how to squeeze the trigger to have the most accurate shot I can. Good trigger control will come into play regardless of whether I shoot one handed or two, strong side or weak. Manipulating the trigger occurs regardless of target distance as well – both long shots and firing from retention requires use of the trigger.

This means that I can easily justify spending a significant amount of time working on my trigger skills, but it also means that there are many more specialized skills that will also give me time working on the trigger.

Be smart about how you train, and take advantage of those opportunities to be more efficient. Spend more time on general skills, but don’t forget the specialized ones.

How much time do you spend on general skills vs specialized skills?

Best of the Web 5/4/12

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

Training vs Experience (thetruthaboutguns.com) – The Truth About Guns republished an article from Active Response Training that points out that not all bad guys are untrained slackers; many in fact do have training on their side as well.  Even more thought-provoking, they ‘train’ in the environment in which they operate, not the square range like many of us.  To top it off, they have more experience as well.  Maybe our opponents are training harder than us after all.

Real World Usage of the EDC Trauma Kit by a First Responder (ITS Tactical) – One of ITS Tactical’s readers wrote a detailed account of his usage of his ITS Tactical EDC Trauma Kit in a real situation.  Immediately it points out how important it is to have some medical training (and carry the tools of the trade).  This story also shows that training scars can affect things outside of combatives.  Bottom line: if you carry any piece of medical gear with you, make sure you know how to use it.  Opening your tourniquet and looking at it for the first time while someone is bleeding to death might be too late.

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?

Traditional Martial Arts: A Strong Foundation

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had a few opportunities to test some of my skills. First came a chance to practice the IDPA classifier with some of the IDPA guys at the range after a range cleanup day. While I’m certainly not a master class shooter quite yet, I did score pretty close to Expert. This was my first time attempting the classifier (or any IDPA stages for that matter) so I was pleased with myself. The following week during my own practice session I shot the fastest F.A.S.T. That I’ve shot yet: 6.5 seconds.

These aren’t huge accomplishments (at least in my eyes), and I have a long way to go to be where I really want to be with my skills. But looking at where I stand now with the amount of training I have, it brought me to realize something. I haven’t taken a full length pistol class yet. I’ve done modules at the first NEShooters Summit a few years ago, and I’ve done a decent amount of course work with instructors like Southnarc, but not a lot of work on the fundamentals or doing a fast draw, reload etc.

The reason I think this is significant is that I do have almost two decades of time spent training in a traditional martial art: Kyokushin Karate. While some may say my rapid improvement and performance is because I’m somehow a gifted athlete with great hand eye coordination, they would be wrong. Ask my wife how graceful I am, and she’ll be the first to tell you that I’m a complete klutz, at least when I’m not focused on a task.

Karate has taught me to be fast as well as able to refine and improve my body mechanics. Economy of movement has become second nature for me. Anyone who has many years of training will have noticed that picking up more advanced concepts and techniques tends to get easier. There is a reason that first degree blackbelt, Shodan, is considered the beginning. Until you have reached such a point in your training, you are just working on the basics to make further training possible.

This ability to pick up other body mechanics makes long time martial artists very quick studies when it comes to picking up another martial art-shooting included.

Anyone who would knock the traditional martial arts for self-defense is at a minimum neglecting to see the peripheral benefits of the training. A long investment in Karate or a similar system (being taught by a good instructor) is the formal education equivalent to getting your high school diploma. Without understanding the basics of arithmetic, writing, and science there is no way you can be reasonably successful in some college degree fields.

Instead of just looking at the face value of these martial arts for the defensive applications, consider them an investment in your martial education. There is more to self-defense than the latest and greatest technique or gadget.

Have you noticed the role traditional martial arts has played in your training?

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.

5 Benefits of Competition

Photo by dagnyg

In most areas of self-defense you can usually find some sort of competition. If you study BJJ or Karate there are tournaments for both. If you are a shooter, you can find everything from long distance rifle matches to games like IDPA and USPSA that test your ability to draw, move, and shoot under pressure.

Some people will say that games like IDPA are good training for defensive shooting. I disagree. IDPA or any of these other competitions are games that are bound by a set of rules. These rules either confine how you act and give you bad habits for the street, or they are just plain unrealistic due to the unpredictable nature of real-life.

That said, there are plenty of reasons to engage in competition.

Pressure

Competition is best for the pressure it puts on us. Competition is ultimately a test of skill, whether by ranking the competitors by their skills or by placing you head to head against another competitor. Pressure is key to making sure your training doesn’t fall apart in real life when the pressure means life or death.

Competitions add pressure in a number of ways. Some activities like IDPA put you against situations you cannot fully prepare for in advance. Being thrown into an unknown situation mimics real life and is a great way to test how you might react. Most competitions add some sort of audience. Whether it is the rest of the group you are squadded with for an IDPA stage or it is the crowd at a tournament, performing while people are watching and critiquing you can certainly add pressure. These situations are perfect for testing your ability to focus on the task at hand and ignore irrelevant distractions.

Most of these competitions also add some sort of time pressure. In the shooting sports you usually have a limited amount of time to complete a stage, or you are attempting to secure the lowest possible time. You can surely add time pressure yourself at home with a stop watch or a shot timer, but in competition you get all of these things at once.

Finding your weaknesses

Competition can be great for finding your shortcomings. IDPA for example has different stages. On one stage you might have to shoot entirely with your weak hand only. This might demonstrate your ability, or lack thereof, in that department. In a fighting competition, you might find that you lose a fight due to some area in which you were under-prepared. If your partner at the dojo favors certain tactics, you might not realize you are completely unprepared to handle a different set of tactics when confronted with them in competition. The competition helps you find these weaknesses so you can fix them.

Measuring Stick

Simply going against competitors is also a huge benefit. You may not see it this way, but competing with someone who is honestly trying to beat you can be great for your training. First and foremost this is your measuring stick. If I fight in a tournament, I generally get an idea for how well I stack up against my opponents. The same goes for shooting competition. I can compare myself to those who performed better and worse and determine how I am improving.

Watch what they do

You should see other competitors as an asset. You can always find a way to learn from someone else, whether they are at the top of their game or the bottom. Watch what the other competitors do, and you might notice things that help you improve your abilities, or things to watch out for (like bad habits). In my rifle marksmanship instruction I always learn more from watching my students shoot than I do when I myself am behind the sights. The same applies in competition.

Getting advice

Some competitions are friendly enough that you can expect to get good advice from those competitors that are better than you. Ask a Master Class shooter to critique your shooting, and you’ll be surprised that many will take you up on the offer. Take in all the advice you can, and treat these competitors as a resource.

Whatever the competition, there are benefits you can take away. Competition does not replace the need for dedicated application-specific training, nor does it perfectly test the skills and tactics you need on the street. Competition does give you many benefits and when used properly can help you develop and test your fighting skill set.

Did I miss any benefits? Do you compete? How do you benefit from competition? Post a comment below!

Every Range Trip Is A Training Session

Photo by AMagill

The usual course of fire I follow tends to consist of some sort of drill to assess my ability, most often the FAST, followed by a series of drills to work on my biggest deficiencies and the things I can’t work on in dry fire.

I get the most enjoyment at the range from trying to improve my skills instead of just transporting high quantities of lead as fast as I can. Many people take a different view.

The other day I was at the range going through my normal range routine. In the next bay over, there were some members of my club shooting a variety of firearms at a rate that leads me to believe they were there just to have fun.

I’m not against going to the range to have fun. I will on occasion head to the range and bring guns that are really not in any way, shape, or form practical for any defensive purpose. After all, the right to bear arms is not limited to hunting or even self-defense. But I like to spend my time at the range wisely.

Make every shot count

Now just because I might be shooting something for fun, it doesn’t mean I’m not training. Even if you aren’t shooting your designated defense pistol, you should make an effort to have every shot give you the maximal training value. Don’t squander opportunities to improve.

Trigger Squeeze

Every time you squeeze a trigger, it should be just that – a squeeze. Don’t slap or jerk a trigger just because this isn’t your usual gun. An unusual gun is a perfect chance to practice being surprised by the trigger breaking. A trigger really isn’t all that different between a 1911, a 12 gauge, or a Mosin-Nagant. They may have different pull-weights, and have a different ‘break’, but a trigger is a trigger.

Sight Picture

Looking down the sights, even if they aren’t your carry piece’s sights, gives you another repetition of getting a good sight picture and maintaining it through the trigger pull.

Manipulations

Every opportunity to manipulate a firearm gives you a chance to work on those manipulation skills. If you are shooting something of the same action type as your normal defensive firearm, then this is a no-brainer. A 1911 and a Glock really operate quite similarly once you look past the the safeties.

Some things in shooting are universal. Proper grip, sight picture, breathing, and trigger squeeze are required in just about every shooting discipline. Every time you go to the range, whether it’s a well-planned training session, or if it’s just an afternoon of fun at the range with some friends, you should always try to maximize the training benefit you get from it. Use every opportunity to work on the fundamentals. If you work the fundamentals, you avoid building bad habits, and you will be improving your training skills.

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.

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