Thursday, July 26, 2012

Navy SEALs and Soccer Moms - the Importance of Fundamentals

"I want to learn how to shoot out of my car and fight my way to better cover in case I find myself trapped in a crazy urban riot." That's what I heard from a potential student on the other end of the phone earlier this summer. What he wanted to be ready for was not an unrealistic scenario by any means, but I think what I asked him next caught him a little off guard: "When was the last time you did any marksmanship training? How are you at getting effective hits on target at 3 to 15 yards?" After a short conversation on his level of proficiency with the shooting fundamentals, he was enrolled in our Defensive Handgun course instead of our Advanced Handgun course so that he could get some additional work on his marksmanship and manipulation before taking it to the next level. The point of this story isn't that I don't think this student needs to learn how to shoot out of his car and fight his way to better cover - in fact, after completing our Defensive Handgun course, he's now enrolled for an Advanced Handgun course. What I'm getting at here is that none of those 'hi-speed techniques' amount to squat if he wasn't able to get his hits. The problem we face everyday as intructors is that everyone wants to learn how to duck, dive, and roll, but precious few want to spend time on the most basic aspect of shooting: getting your hits.

Let's face it - to most people, there is nothing sexy or cool about practicing marksmanship. But to me, there are few things more beautiful than watching a student, or any shooter for that matter, place shot after shot right where they want them, regardless of circumstance or conditions. Someone who has made the investment of time, money, and sweat to increase their proficiency in shooting is someone who really "gets" what the point of training is: to push yourself to your failure point, get there, back off and re-assess your skills, and then jump back in and push yourself to a new level. There is no end to this process.

Additional techniques and concepts should be preceded by the proper utilization of the
fundamentals, the most important of which are front-sight/optic focus and trigger control!

There have been several instances where people have asked me, "What is the most dangerous thing a student has ever done in class?" They expect a story of someone getting muzzle swept or maybe even having the greatly feared negligent discharge. But what I will tell them is, "Shooting too fast to get effective hits!" And why is this so dangerous? Because in addition to wasting good ammo, it really only accomplishes two things in the real world: First, it may not neutralize your threat, which is of course why you are firing your weapon in the first place. Second, you are responsible - legally, ethically, and financially - for every round that leaves your barrel, which is compunded when those rounds do not strike their intended target. This can have a much bigger impact on someone's life than the first issue, assuming that you managed to survive the initial incident. While shooting quickly, moving, and manipulation of your firearm are often skills that can turn the tide of any encounter and keep you at the top of the power curve, they are worth nothing without the marksmanship to back it all up.

So how do you avoid falling into what I refer to as the "John Woo Trance"? Know where you stand with marksmanship and have a training plan. Start shooting closer to your targets - 3 yards is a good place to begin. Once you can get your hits as fast as you can shoot, step back to 5 yards, then 20 yards, then 50 yards, and so on until you've reached a distance that you feel fits your standard environment with the weapons platform that you are working with. Now work your way back in to 3 yards - and this process shouldn't be done in a single day. This is several training sessions, maybe even several months, of trigger time. Oh, and did I mention that you can practice this without live ammunition? That's right: dry practice really is the key to success, and the best part is that it can be done on the shooting range or in the comfort of your own home. Just make sure that you follow the proper unloading procedures, remove all live ammunition from your body and from the area, double-check that chamber, and adhere to all of the firearm safety rules!

Now that you can get your hits at the desired ranges, start your movement techniques, add in your malfunction drills, work from behind cover, and so on. Once you've reached the level of proficiency that you desire, start over and work harder, because there is always someone out there who is faster and stronger and wants victory more than you do, and you do not want to meet that person on a dark and rainy night in an alley when they've decided that they want what you have. And remember this: Hits are always fashionable. Shot placement trumps all factors. 1 slow hit beats 5 fast misses. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Anything worth shooting once is worth shooting thirty times. Aim small, miss small. And there is a lawyer attached to every bullet you fire - get your hits.

It's a beautiful thing: marksmanship practice may not always be "hi-speed",
but shot placement trumps all factors, including caliber, circumstance, and how
much you paid for your gun.

In the course of my professional and recreational shooting experience, I've had the chance to be around a lot of fantastic individuals. Several months ago, while training alongside an active duty Navy SEAL, I asked him what the most important aspect of his training was to him. He replied, "When I shoot someone, I want them to stay down, and shot placement is key." Last month, I was talking with a woman who had just purchased her first handgun and wanted to sign up for a course to learn more about protecting her home and family. When I asked her what her primary goal for training was, she replied, "If I have to shoot someone who is trying to hurt me or my family, I want them to stay down." It seems that no matter who you are, shot placement is still the most important factor - and in the real world, no one is going to wait for you to get that lucky shot.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.