Timers and Practice…

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I’m a big fan of using a timer for shooting skills practice.  HUGE fan.  I believe strongly that if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you need to go.

And yet, I almost completely agree with John Wallace in his blog posting about Randomness in practice:  Things to Consider Before Chasing the Timer (Part V: Randomness)   In it, he suggests doing a whole LOT of things that mean you can’t actually track your progress over time, and sometimes can’t even use a timer in the first place.

So how can I agree with both of those perspectives without demonstrating some significant schizophrenia?  (And we are going to leave my mental health out of this, thank you very much.)

Simple:  one of the above methods is for practicing shooting skills.  The other is for practicing applications of shooting skills.  There is a bit of grey area in there (for example, when practicing the skill of using cover, you still don’t try to beat the timer) but for the most part, the issue of randomness should occur when attempting to prepare for real-life self-defense (or military, or LEO) applications–not when learning the skills in the first place.

When do I use a timer?

  • Practicing my draws (hands at sides, surrender, concealment 2-handed, concealment 1-handed, WHO draw, sitting, prone, supine)
  • Practicing my reloads (emergency, speed, one-handed SHO, one-handed WHO)
  • Working transitions and splits
  • Practicing explosive movement into and out of positions onto near/far targets
  • …and many other specific physical skills.

Put it this way—specific skills, practiced in isolation, make you good at those skills, such that in terms of applications of said skills, you don’t have to think through the skill itself.  In application, you can then use the majority of your brain to concentrate on the situation, instead of having to devote part of it to remembering (for example) how to get a good draw using only your strong hand.

When you first learned how to work a manual transmission, you had to think about it a lot—at the expense of paying attention to your surroundings.  Someone ever try to talk to you when you were first trying to go from a stop into first gear uphill?  How’d that go?  Did you tell them to shut up until you got the car moving?  (I’ll bet you did.)

And yet, as you got more comfortable with the transmission, the amount of brainpower you had to spend on it became less—so that you could spend more time watching the road, and paying attention to the situation around you.  And talking with friends.

In a similar fashion, If your shooting skills are good, it’ll make your ability to apply those skills far greater.  You’ll have more brain capacity available for problem-solving, as less of it (less of the conscious part, at least) will be needed for the skill itself.

Using a timer for building skills means you have a way to measure your practice–what works, what doesn’t, what helps you improve most.  It gives you a standard against which to practice, a point at which you can say “okay, this skill is pretty good, time to change training priorities.”  (We don’t want to say “good enough,” unless it is “good enough that I should be practicing something else before I try to get this one better.)  For example, if your draw from concealment on a target at 7 yards is already 1 second, you might be better served by practicing other skills as opposed to trying to drop another 0.15 seconds.

But after your skills are solid (and while you continue to practice your skills), you should be practicing applications of those skills.  Say that you can already draw, reload, and shoot on the move.  Now, (with a training partner) set up a situation in which there are three targets in front of you, with varying (and mixed) colors, numbers, and shapes on them.  Have your partner yell out a combination that you have to recognize, and only shoot those targets.  Or maybe only NOT shoot those targets.

Too easy?  Have the targets appearing, (visual start, instead of an audible start) and also require that you shoot on the move to cover.

Still too easy?  Have your training partner give you a magazine that has an unknown number of rounds it in, forcing an emergency reload at some point in time.  Or instead, include a dummy round in the magazine somewhere to force remedial action under stress.

Those applications really aren’t made for timer work.  (You could use one occasionally if you want, but it won’t really tell you anything.)  The purpose of those applications is to train your brain to make appropriate situational choices—in which you need as much free brainpower as possible.  (As opposed to training your body to perform physical skills.)

If your skills practice was solid enough, then you should HAVE free brainpower available.  If, on the other hand, you haven’t put yourself on a timer for basic shooting skills, chances are that your skills are weaker than you think, and your shooting application success level will be far lower.

We use bullseye targets to measure accuracy, don’t we?  In a similar fashion, you should use a timer to measure speed.  (Unless, in your lifestyle, shooting is all bullseye and never self-defense.  No, there isn’t a timer in a self-defense situation.  There is another guy there who really is trying to be faster than you, however.)  And you should use a timer in your practice fairly often.

But you should also NOT use the timer fairly often, because in addition to training your body to handle specific skills, you need to train your brain to handle varying situations.

You are practicing two different things.  And unsurprisingly, the best methodology to use in these two different things, with two different goals—-is different.

What a shock.

Use a timer on known drills.  Also—incorporate randomness in your training.

(I will note my biggest disagreement with John is in his title.  He calls it:  “Things to Consider Before Chasing the Timer” —I think that Randomness and situational training actually should start occurring AFTER you’ve been chasing the timer for awhile.  Get good at specific skills.  Then, start practicing occasionally with randomness.)

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