Thursday, February 16, 2012

Training Limitations Part Two

Part 2
The assumption so far is: Training and range activities condition you and me to respond with a strong-side holstered weapon to a very specific signal or stimulus.  What happens to us when neither condition is valid?  And is there a cure or options? 

I see two corrective actions.  The first is obvious.  Train with your carry gun in your carry mode.  Practice dry, slowly at first and then speed it up.  At the range you should work slowly with live rounds.  As ability and smoothness begin to increase, challenge yourself with “what if?”  What if the ankle gun is the trailing leg going up the stairs and I can’t step forward?  What if I’m seated at a crowded table and the gun I need is in a shoulder holster?  I think you get the idea.  

When Pavlov put the dogs in his little apparatus, they were primed for the task at hand.  After a few sessions the dogs began to realize that food and apparatus were somehow linked.  They soon learned that on the bell if they acted right, they got a reward.  What if they had to sort through the signals for the right signal stimulus?   

The second corrective action is also obvious, but more provocative: Use new and different stimuli to initiate the shooting phase of training.  The problem is we can’t put all the possible or plausible stimuli into our training/sport shooting events.  This is complicated by being called to the firing line and told “You’re up,” which puts you in the mindset that the next signal is the go stimulus.

It seems to me the only way to accomplish this is to lessen the impact of the initial set up.  To do this we force the shooter to sort through incoming stimuli for the “GO” signal because the real world doesn’t have a firing line.

John Farnam is a pretty smart fellow.  I always thought his ‘shooting with confusion’ had a lot to offer the shooter.  I don’t know if John still calls it this or if he even uses it.  He has probably found a better system.

The drill is simple.  Start with a holstered gun.  Yes Virginia, it’s loaded.  On ONE, you place yourself in a weapon retention position sometimes called the interview stance and talk to the target.  You might ask if you can help it, or what is it doing here? The important part is you’ve responded to the target and by talking to it, distracted yourself from shooting.

On TWO, you draw the weapon, point the weapon at the target and issue a command: “Don’t move!” or “Drop the weapon!”  You can get cute and use “Armed citizen prepared to defend himself and those to whom I extend my mantle of protection!”  This one is likely to backfire and get everyone around you laughing.  Not always a bad thing.

On THREE, this is a different signal like a whistle or air horn, you engage the target with two rounds to the center of mass.

The key to remember is you shoot only on THREE and not any other command.  The commands should be given in different orders including not giving commands.  Having the instructor shout “shoot ‘em, shoot ‘em now!!” without command THREE is just so much wind.  The order of the commands is up to the instructor, who sees it as his job to trip you up if he can.

I believe one of the end results of this exercise is to desensitize you to the expectation that being on the firing line guarantees discharging your weapon.  I see that as a critical step to being open to other shoot stimuli.

Now we can add different stimuli to open you to the possibilities of self-defense shootings.  How about responding to the sound of a bolt slamming shut or the rack of a pump shotgun?  Your range partner could yell at a target to “drop the weapon” or “No, no don’t do that.”  Of course the sound of blanks being discharged next to you could be a strong stimulus.

I can easily see training that starts with you occupied with some activity like sorting shapes or colors and someone discharges a blank or starter pistol.  You need to look around, evaluate the possible targets and respond.  Heck, I even toyed with the idea of a red paint-splattered target that drops out from behind a barricade as a start signal.

The goal in all of this is to make you ‘unconsciously competent’ with the modes of CCW you use and to get you to quickly recognize the start of trouble as a signal and not the beep of a range timer.

Some of you may and should have different ideas.  Bring them to the table!  I’d like to hear about them.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thoughts on Limits Imposed by Training

It’s easy to watch a fictional TV show (isn’t that redundant?) about a mass shooting and think, “If an armed and trained person were present the outcome would have been different.”  It’s not a giant leap of mental agility to change that thought to, “If I was armed and present…..”  Personally, I hope you and I never have to find out if we would have made the difference.  Still, the program got me thinking about training.

Most handgun training has two common features:
  • Carrying strong side on the waist band.
  • Shooting starts with an audible command like, “Up!” or “Go! or “Beeeep!”

Off the range, many of us carry concealed in some other manner than at the waist.  I confess to using an ankle holster or an occasional shoulder holster. 

Wear it under the sock.     The wear indicates it has been carried a lot, but I can tell you it's only been used in practice.




I know several people who carry with a pocket holster or fanny pack.  These carry methods are more comfortable and easier to conceal. We don’t expect to get in a gunfight, but we are willing to be prepared for that possibility.  

So…, do we come to an accommodation or mental adjustment in which the gun simply registers as a weight?  I don’t suggest we become reckless or careless, but that lump of steel begins to be perceived differently as compared to the same piece of rescue equipment holstered on your strong side waist.

This is complicated by Pavlov’s dog.  Simply, a stimulus (the range timer buzzer) is associated with an action (drawing the gun and shooting) which results in a reward (getting to shoot and an attaboy from the range officer/instructor/friends) which makes us more attentive to the stimulus (the timer buzzer) which.….  Well, you get the idea.  It’s a cycle that feeds on itself.  The problem arises when we ask what’s the effect on performance when the stimulus is absent?  Do we hesitate?  Do we ignore the stimulus?  Can we be self actuating?

Of course we can.  We’re not little robot dogs that wouldn’t eat when food was presented.  Even Pavlov’s dogs wolfed lunch down in the absence of a ringing bell.  But in the absence of the stimulus which authorizes us to draw and engage, our performance will suffer.

In an emergency would we reach for the missing gun at the waist band?  Would we remember the gun on the ankle?   I used to play martial arts at one studio, but took a one-day self-protection course at another studio.  It turned out I was the only attendee not from that dojo.  The instructor was lecturing us about avoiding trouble and de-escalation.  To prove his point he fixed his gaze on me, put a “I’m going-to-rip-you-a-new-one” look on his face and stepped toward me.  I immediately stepped back and to the side and reached for the non-existent gun on my right hip while explaining, “I don’t want any trouble.”  Good thing it was just a “teaching moment.”

Why?  I did this because I spent a weekend training at a shooting school and that was one of the drills: step back, draw your weapon and attempt to disengage.  In four hours in one weekend I had conditioned myself to a specific response to a stimulus.

Working only with strong side holsters and carrying differently is a trap for the unwary.  If you carry in multiple modes you need to develop skill sets for all of them.  Have I figured out how to ankle draw when kneeling?  Or standing on something slippery?  Or in a car or when moving?  Or when…. I suggest you ask yourself the same type of questions.

Why not carry the same way all the time?

It’s a good question and I have only my opinion on that.  A strong side holster could be a potential nightmare when you take a fall while cross-country skiing.  An ankle holster wouldn’t work if you’re wearing hip boots fly fishing, and it looks funny when you’re in shorts.  Your carry mode is derived from your attire which is a function of your activity.  Lots of activities?  You’re going to use several carry modes.

My mindset tells me how I expect to behave in 'shooting spree' situations, but I wonder how long (in terms of seconds) it will take me to get to that mindset.  Especially when everyone around you seems to be losing their heads and you have to recognize what’s happening and respond and nobody has given you the start beep. 

What can we do about that?
To Be Continued