Thursday, August 18, 2016
Standards in Training
Recently, I was teaching a combative pistol course to a group of law enforcement professionals and legally armed citizens. Although many instructors call the basic handgun skills fundamentals, I prefer to use the word essentials because shooters must have these skills in order to use a handgun for personal security.
I begin some of my courses with several “time in” drills in order to evaluate each student’s skill sets. My time in drills are fired at 20 feet into a 6 x 10-inch rectangle as follows:
• One shot from the ready position of their choice in one second;
• One shot from the holster in two seconds;
• One shot, slide closed reload, one shot in 3.25 seconds;
• Four rounds from ready in two seconds
I look for essential skills such as proper grip, trigger control, recoil control, aggressive body position and general weapon handling ability. I also look at whether they’re confident in their gun handling or confused and uneasy. Bottom line: Do they look as if they know how to “run their gun”?
During class, one of my students drew their firearm and shot in a very slow, deliberate manner—it took him almost three seconds to get a hit on target. So I asked him to do it again, assuming he’d step up his pace on his second run. But he performed the drill with the same slowness. When I asked about the speed of his draw stroke, he said, “I have found that it leads to a higher level of success when I shoot the XYZ Drill. I have been working toward a faster time on this.”
I then asked him what other skills he practices regularly and he told me: none. “I feel this drill is an excellent compilation of what I will need in a gunfight ... it covers it all.” After a brief pause I said, “Except someone shooting back at you.”
It was obvious he didn’t know what to say. I find this mentality in my classes more often than I’d like. Few people have experienced armed conflict, so they confuse their competition experience with combat. They’re not the same. Although both involve shooting guns and stress, the stress level isn’t equal in severity.
I’ve competed in scholastic and collegiate sports as well as competition shooting at various levels (PPC, USPSA and IDPA) and I’ve had someone try to kill me —the stress isn’t the same. The activities themselves aren’t the same either. If there are rules, it’s a sport/competition. There are no rules in a gunfight—so if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough to win. This is an obvious difference in mindset compared to sport/competition.
Armed conflict should be avoided because you always run the risk of losing, no matter how well trained and prepared you are. Worse yet, many people believe they’re better trained and prepared than they really are… it’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Read up on it, its quite interesting. People “suffering” from this condition enter conflict with a serious disadvantage they don’t know they have. Con- fusing proficiency in a particular drill with combat preparation is a symptom of this affliction. Shooting standards and drills during training are an excellent way to build and maintain essential skills, but they aren’t a solution to armed conflict! A standard is “something established for use as a comparison in measuring quality” while a drill is “systematic training, practice or teaching by repeated exercise.” A skill is “an ability or proficiency; an art, craft, etc. using the hands or body.”
As these relate to the combative application of a firearm, skills are those essential physical activities needed to shoot well enough to save your own life, a drill is used to reinforce the physical activity and standards are used to measure performance as training progresses. None of these are a gunfight and to confuse them as some type of equivalent is unwise—and potentially deadly. Standards and drills should be viewed as vehicles toward preparation, as should competition, but neither should be confused with being prepared to act.
With this understood, drills and standards are useful tools and most every student of combative weapon craft is always looking for new ones in which to test their skills. I thought I’d share some of my favorites and why I like them. They’re not all-inclusive, nor should any drill be thought of as such.
One of my favorite drills is the classic El Presidente, as pioneered by the late Jeff Cooper. This drill is still used in classes at Gunsite (www.Gunsite.com) and I like it because it tests a number of essential skills in a short exercise. From a distance of 10 yards, 12 rounds are fired at three targets one yard apart. The targets should represent the high chest region.
Col. Cooper used 10-inch circles while Gunsite currently uses an 8-inch circle. I use a 6 x 10 rectangle but 8-x- 11 sheets of paper work fine too. With your back to the targets, turn and draw from your holster and shoot two rounds at each target. Perform an in- battery reload and then fire two more rounds at each target. Try to get all hits in at 10 seconds or less.
Another drill I like also came from Gunsite, but is not part of their curriculum. While attending a gun writer event years back, the Gunsite staff had those in attendance shoot a drill that required drawing from the holster (a new handgun and holster were being featured at this event) and fire two rounds on two targets in four seconds at 15 feet. I mentioned to the Range Officer that I felt a reload could be incorporated in that time frame. Others threw the gauntlet down and the competition was on! I do this drill now at 20 feet on 6 x 10 rectangles starting with the draw, two rounds fired, an in battery reload followed by two rounds. If the time is not a challenge, then incorporate an emergency reload.
Hopefully the difference between drills and standards is apparent. Both are designed to build and test skills, but they should never be confused with what will occur in armed conflict. In a gunfight expect nothing, plan on everything potentially failing and be prepared to move on to a contingency plan. The person who will win in armed conflict is someone who can adapt their essential skills to the situation they face. This isn’t something that can be taught in a drill or standard shoot but only by well-developed and thorough training.
For additional drills used in Handgun Combatives courses, check out the videos on www.handguncombatives.com or the Handgun Combatives You Tube channel.