2017: How are you going to get better this year?

At the start of 2016, I posted an article about one of the things I was going to try to do to get better at shooting throughout the year, which was attempt to dryfire every day.  While I didn’t manage to meet my goal of dryfiring every day, I did certainly dryfire much more often than I had in the past, and it made a difference to my shooting.   (I made excuses for myself on some days later in the year, rationalizing not putting in the work.  The excuses weren’t valid, and it isn’t like the extra 3 minutes I got instead of practicing ended up being useful to me.  One of my goals this year is to not make excuses for not doing the work.)

You should dryfire also.  Seriously.  You don’t have to grind at it for an hour daily (well, if you are able to you certainly can!) and you don’t always have to put on all your gear to get it done–you can actually perform a good, simple drill that takes less than 3 minutes, doesn’t require you putting on any gear, and WILL make you a better shooter if you do it daily.  Sure, if you ARE able to practice in dryfire for an average of an hour a day, you will get SIGNIFICANTLY better.  But, if you are like most adults and have other priorities in your life, it doesn’t mean you can’t still get in good practice.

Drill Zero:

And you can’t argue that you don’t have a free three minutes in any particular day.

To help you make sure you are drilling every single day, here’s a 2017 Dryfire Report Card so that you can track every day that you help make yourself a better shooter.  Download it, print it, then put it up somewhere next to where you’ll practice.  Every day, color in the box for that day, showing that you at least practiced Drill Zero.  My personal goal for 2017 is that every single day I will practice physical pistol skills in some fashion, and I’m going to mark in black days I do Drill Zero, blue the days I do longer dryfire sessions, purple the days I dryfire with guns other than my carry gun or primary competition handgun, red the days I live fire practice, and green the days I test myself either in competitions or in training classes.  (Yes, I own a lot of Sharpies.  Doesn’t everyone?)

You can mark it differently, of course, but I like tracking how much I do each different kind of work.  I didn’t manage to meet my goal in 2016, but I got in a LOT of practice that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.  I’m hoping that this year, I’ll meet my goal.

Awhile back I posted an article on some variations on Drill Zero to give you some other things to try–they still don’t take any more time than the original Drill Zero, but allow you to change things up while still getting in some practice on important things that will make you better at shooting.

For the first two variations, you will need this target: 5_2in_Dots

There are a number of other things you can do in any particular year to make yourself better–take classes, compete, test yourself against known objective measurements of skills–but the one thing that doesn’t take any money and doesn’t require you to go to the range is dryfire.

And you can make yourself a MUCH better shooter just by doing dryfire.

Every day, get a little better.  Try it!

Measuring long-term performance increases…

People who actually want to get better at shooting, AND have the self-discipline to put in the work, find pretty quickly that if they never shoot any diagnostic drills then they have no idea what they are good or bad at, which means they don’t really know what they should be working on.

It is really temping to just work on the things that you think are “fun” — but chances are, those things are both easy and also are things you are already good at.  Sure, doing that (and getting even better) isn’t a bad thing–but if that is all you do, you simply aren’t going to get much better overall.

It is important to understand where you are with regard to basic shooting skills, so you can work on removing weaknesses, and increasing overall skills.  There are a number of drill descriptions on the Internet that do a good job of being diagnostic–in other words, they allow you to rate your ability at certain skills.  Now, it is important to pick the diagnostic drills that monitor and rate the skills that are most important for you.  If most of your needs are for concealed carry defensive skills, using the 500-point bullseye test as a diagnostic isn’t going to be very helpful, or at least it isn’t going to be testing skills that are as important to you as a different drill might.

(That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do that drill once or twice sometime, because it’ll tell you something about a particular set of skills.  BUT….it is a much lower priority than other skills for your particular situation.)

So the first thing is to look at your main reason for having a gun.  Competition?  Concealed carry?  Bullseye precision?  What exactly is the most important thing you will need to do with your gun?

Once you have that, then you can figure out what specific skills are the ones you need to prioritize in terms of becoming competent, (and later, hopefully expert).

Here’s three good, short diagnostic drills, along with a list (in some cases, partial list) what skills they test.  This list is primarily focused on physical shooting skills that should probably be priorities in terms of skill-building for self-defense purposes.

  • Hackathorn 3-Second Head Shot Standards
    Skills tested:  Draw to first shot, accuracy at speed, accuracy under known time pressure, transitions
  • F.A.S.T.
    Skills tested:  Draw to first shot, accuracy at speed, appropriate speed for low-percentage versus high-percentage targets, slidelock (emergency) reload, shot after reload
  • 10 Round Assault Course
    Skills tested:  Draw to first shot, precision accuracy at distance, accuracy at speed, shot after movement, shooting while moving

Some reasons I like those three:

  1. None of them take very many rounds, or much time.
  2. You get only one chance to do it right, and you can’t fix mistakes you make.  There are no makeup shots, and no fixing errors.  Either you do it right, or it shows.
  3. Every single one puts you under time pressure of some sort.  Now, this isn’t important if your main focus is bullseye accuracy–you should be using different diagnostics for that.  But for a self-defense or competition focus, time is ALWAYS important.  Diagnostics that don’t include time pressure are ignoring an element of  primary importance for those foci. (And these three drills all include time pressure in different ways.)

Recently, Rob Pincus has continued his crusade to have people stop getting better at shooting skills by again claiming that using timers (and other tools used for actual skill-rating metrics) isn’t useful and will actually make you worse.

This, of course, is belied by the knowledge that every teacher/instructor/trainer of any physical skill knows, which is that if you don’t know what works and what doesn’t work, you can’t actually get better in an efficient fashion.  Sure, there are plenty of self-defense skills that you can’t put on a timer.  (Or measure in an objective fashion.)  This doesn’t change the fact that keeping track of the physical shooting skills that you hold as a priority is important–because you can then look at what you do well, and what you need to work on.

What diagnostic drills do you like?  Why do you like them?  What skills are you tracking over time?

 

Drill Zero Variations

At the start of 2016, I posted an article about practicing every day including a Dryfire Report you could print out, plus a link to a video about Drill Zero.  Drill Zero is a short dryfire exercise that is easy to do every day that takes little equipment, little room, and gives you practice at several fundamentals that are central to shooting well.

The problem with any one particular drill, of course, is the fact that it simply can’t help you practice THAT many skills all at once.  While Drill Zero can help you with some of the skills that are incredibly important, it is still a good idea to get some additional practice in—but sometimes you still just don’t have much time.

So:  Here are three variations on Drill Zero that you can periodically add to your normal practice schedule.  They don’t take longer than a standard Drill Zero (at least, not by much), and you can rotate them into your practice periodically to expand the set of skills that you practice on a daily basis.

For the first two variations, you will need this target: 5_2in_Dots

(You can use it for the third variation also, if you like.)

Variation 1 adds some target selection and specificity, variation 2 adds a second transition and sight picture, and variation three adds some gun-handling practice to your marksmanship practice.

To summarize:

VARIATION 1: Put the 5-dot target up on the wall that you use for Drill Zero.  Instead of transitioning to the wall, transition to a specific dot for each rep, and keep the sights in alignment on the dot (which will be large considering how close you are) as you work the trigger.  You can use the same dot for any given day of repetitions, but I personally prefer to use a different dot for each rep, which means for any set of 10 (each of freestyle, SHO, and WHO) I go through all five dots twice.

This variation will do two things:

  1. Check to see if you are snapping your eyes to the target and then driving the gun–if you can’t see the dot clearly before the gun/sights appear in your vision, you aren’t snapping your eyes fast enough.
  2. It will also force you to move to specific aiming points on the wall.  This is important, because while Drill Zero does some good things, it also allows you to pick whatever spot on the wall is most comfortable to you, and you don’t have to actually control where the gun moves.  Using the 5-dots target forces you to move to specific positions, but still allows you to keep your focus and concentration on the front sight, which is a major part of Drill Zero.

VARIATION 2: With the 5-dot target on the wall, perform Drill Zero as normal by transitioning to a specific dot.  When you do that, take up the slack and prep the trigger strongly, then pause on the dot without pressing the trigger.  When the gun is solid and non-moving, snap your eyes and drive the gun to a second dot and complete the trigger pull on the second dot without misaligning the sights.

This variation:

  1. Allows you to check your trigger prep.  Is your finger placed properly?  Do you have an appropriate amount of prep?  Not enough?  How often do you prep too much?
  2. Gives you an extra transition, one that is very short.  As such, you should be able to complete that trigger pull extremely quickly.  This practice will help you practice keeping your front/rear sights in alignment during transitions, and get better at finishing the trigger pull immediately upon getting the sights on target.

VARIATION 3: This variation adds a completely new aspect to Drill Zero–specifically, some gun-handling skills.  (In general, this shows the difference between marksmanship skills like sight alignment/sight picture/trigger control, and gun handling skills like draws, loads, and reloads.) For variation three, you’ll be performing the last half of a reload.  Now:  One thing not mentioned in the video is that you can practice it from a speed reload perspective, or instead start with the slide locked back and perform a slidelock reload.  You could also start with a dead trigger and perform the reload and rack the slide prior to the trigger pull on target.

This variation:

  1. Forces you to use your brain for a non-marksmanship purpose prior to pulling the trigger so makes it obvious right away if a) you are performing the marksmanship part correctly, and b) if you are practiced enough to switch gears quickly.
  2. And then it gives you practice on switching gears.  Whether in competition or self-defense, you need to be sufficiently skilled so that you can switch between marksmanship actions and other actions without losing effectiveness or speed.  Forcing yourself to switch back and forth is good practice.  (And practicing reloads more never hurts, either.)

 

Again–these variations do NOT take the place of Drill Zero.  However, every once in awhile throwing in one of these variations (or adding a couple of extra reps of a variation in addition to your Drill Zero practice) will add another layer of skill-building without adding huge additional amounts of time or requiring more in the way of equipment.

Dryfire practice can make you better.  If you have the time to do 30 minutes to an hour of dryfire every day, then EXCELLENT.  Increase your skills in dryfire, test them out in live fire, and you are going to get much better very quickly.

If you don’t have an extra 30 minutes or hour every single day (like most of us)–you can still perform Drill Zero and its variations, and get better.

Every day, get a little better.

Why don’t you charge more?

I posted a depressed comment on Facebook yesterday:
“I need to start charging over a hundred dollars for a half-day seminar. Apparently.
This explains why I’m poor!”

A couple of my friends replied:
Why don’t you charge more?
Do you think aren’t worth more? Or do prefer to be the better value?

My reply:

Truth? I think that my combination of training, experience, and practice in armed and unarmed self-defense plus the fact that I’ve actually been researching this topic (instead of depending on anecdotal evidence) means that my training is worth quite a lot (especially in self-defense classes)—and not only more than I’ve been charging, but much more than a lot of the crap that is taught around here by people who are teaching based on their background and experience, which doesn’t actually match the topics that they are teaching.*

…but if I charged that, it would price my courses out of the range of many people, some of whom REALLY NEED to learn some things. But…many people don’t really understand what they need, and instead spend things on what they want. (I’m all for fun adventure-camp weekends, too.) But people often will not spend much on what they need, though they’ll dump tons of money into what they want.

I want people to get trained. And I want them to get trained in things that they need. So unfortunately for my business, I don’t use Magpul-style marketing, don’t play to the adventure crowd, say flat-out that I’m not teaching military or law enforcement tactics because they aren’t applicable, and don’t make up some sooper-sekret black ops past (or LEO past, or make up stories about my time in corrections when during this one escape attempt I…) which means that I don’t pull the people that others do.

BUT, it also means that after a class, I can sit back and think to myself that what I taught actually will do what I say it will, and it is relevant to what I say it is, and the students in my classes will have better chances at defending themselves afterward because of what they learned.

It DOES get amazingly @*#$&%^$ing irritating to see lots of people extolling the virtues of “Class X” in which they learned “really cool stuff!” (based on incorrect information poorly applied, with a misunderstanding of percentages and absolutes, using situations and experiences that don’t apply and techniques that are detrimental to good practice) …where they paid three times my class fee for something where the ONLY plus for the class really is the fact that they got more trigger time and had fun shooting.

Rant, rant, complain, complain.

If I didn’t care about whether or not my students really learned to defend themselves better, I’d change my marketing, up my prices, and pull in a different class of students and teach them crap that made them think they were amazing, so they’d tell everyone how much they learned and how much fun it was.

But—-I can’t do it.

Here’s a thing: I’ve got a seminar coming up in February, which is all about the fact that you probably won’t be alone when you have to defend yourself, called Partner Defense. You probably won’t be a lone gunman, you probably will care about the person you are with, it will probably be someone you spend a lot of time with—and you probably have not ever actually discussed and practiced with them anything useful regarding self-defense. (And contrary to popular belief, being individually any good does NOT mean that you will work well together.) The seminar is only $60 per pair of people, an evening seminar, guns needed but no live fire (practice and scenarios all in the classroom with guns with barrel blockers and such)—this really IS something that is important if you actually have a spouse, significant other, or child that you spend time with in public.

Anyone want to guess how many people have signed up?”


 

Apparently it was my day to rant.

I’ve made the study of self-defense (unarmed or armed, reading the actual research, delving into social versus asocial violence and process versus procedural predators, finding the best techniques and practice for perception, awareness, and avoidance, etc) for the last 25 years (more, actually).  This is something that has been important to me for a long time.  I’ve spent a lot of time finding out what is REALLY HAPPENING in terms of citizen self-defense situations.

So it sets me off when someone makes up random nonsense based on things they read about but didn’t understand, added to it their unrelated experiences, and then passes it off as “advanced technique.”

Most people don’t know what they need.  And they tend to only pay for what they want.  Which often doesn’t give them ANYTHING that they need. (Other than trigger time.)

I strongly suggest, for people interested in learning self-defense, that you actually attempt to learn what you NEED before giving yourself an weekend adventure taking a class on what you merely want.

No, you don’t need to take those classes from me.  (Sure, that would be great, but it isn’t necessary.)  But you SHOULD take classes that actually teach you what will actually work in the self-defense situations that apply to your life.

 

 

*If you don’t believe me about curriculum, teaching, experience-as-related-to-topic, and technique, you don’t have to take my word for it.  Take a look at what national-level trainers like Tom Givens, Claude Werner, Chuck Haggard, and others are teaching. Compare that to the marketing you read, and what you are going to be taught in your “advanced self-defense course.”  DON’T take my word for it–research best practices and what is actually known about citizen self-defense requirements.  Look at what the people who look at research say about what you need to learn.

2016 Resolution I: Practicing Drill Zero

Caleb over at Gun Nuts Media has an excellent post up about 5 Gun Nuts New Year’s Resolutions.  It is good stuff, so you should go there and read it.

One of the resolutions he suggests for us gun nuts is “practice at least once a week.”  He makes the cogent point that while many competition shooters will laugh at this because they practice a lot more than merely once a week, most people don’t.  I’m actually surprised when I hear an average gun owner say that they practice more than once a month—actually practice, not merely go plinking for fun. Most people simply don’t practice at all, though they might call going to the range a couple times a year to plink at tin cans and clays on the berm “practicing.” (Fun, yes; practice, no.)

Here’s something that can help you actually practice:  Drill Zero

Drill Zero is a dryfire drill based on the Wall Drill, transition practice, an understanding of eye focus, and some thinking I have done regarding the most fundamental skills we need to succeed at any type of shooting.  I wanted to create a drill that would make a significant difference to shooting quickly and accurately, but was simple, straightforward, took little time, and required almost nothing in the way of equipment or space.

…because that way you can do it every dayThere is no excuse to not perform Drill Zero once a day.  Sure, on some days you can do a solid dryfire session, or get some good live fire practice in at the range.  But EVERY day, no matter how busy your life, no matter where you are—if you have a gun and a wall, you can run through Drill Zero and practice the most important fundamentals of shooting in a way that will make you better.

If you do Drill Zero every day, then each month you’ll have performed 900 perfect trigger pulls, with fast transitions, training your eyes to lock onto the front sight with perfect sight alignment at speed.  In a year, you’ll have practiced this TEN THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED AND FIFTY TIMES.  If you don’t think that’ll make a difference to your shooting, then there isn’t much I can say.

Here’s a 2016 Dryfire Report.  Download it, print it, then put it up somewhere next to where you’ll practice.  Every day, color in the box for that day, showing that you at least practiced Drill Zero.  My personal goal for 2016 is that every single day I will practice physical pistol skills in some fashion, and I’m going to mark in black days I do Drill Zero, blue the days I do longer dryfire sessions, red the days I live fire practice, and green the days I test myself either in competitions or in training classes.  At the end of the year, I’ll post a picture of my report, and we can discuss how it went.

How about you?  You in?  How much better do you want to get at the physical skills of shooting in 2016?  Drill Zero takes less than 5 minutes, and you don’t have to put on any gear at all.  Don’t tell me that you can’t find the time!

How much better do you want to get?  Get yourself a copy of the dryfire report, and start practicing!

 

(A followup post was later written giving some variations on Drill Zero.)

Is 2016 the year you get better?

I didn’t get enough better in 2015.

I did some good stuff.  (Among other things, Tom Givens’s Instructor Development Course was excellent.)  I shot some good things here and there (won a couple of state-level IDPA matches, placed here and there in USPSA matches).  And I got in some good practice and read and mulled over some good research regarding self-defense.

But my physical skills didn’t get enough better in 2015 because I didn’t practice the physical skills enough.  Mental work—actually, I did some really good mental work through the year.  Organized some thoughts on awareness and monitoring (those aren’t the same thing), read some research on predator behavior (both known-person and unknown-person), did some good internal work on reaction choices and consequences, came up with some good teachable moments regarding self-defense.  Oh, and got my 5th degree black belt rank in Hapkido.

But my physical skills didn’t improve as much as I wanted for the year.  Because I didn’t practice like I should have.

Did you?

You’ll never miss on the street…

(Second in the series about thoughts spawned by attending the Rangemaster Instructor Development Class with Tom Givens.  Last time, the post was about something that hadn’t occurred to me.  This time, it is about something I already knew, explained in a different fashion.)

If you are carrying a concealed firearm, and have occasion to use it in public on the street (in a Walmart parking lot, at the local gas station, in a Walgreens store) you are never going to miss.

No, seriously, you aren’t.  No round you fire will have a bullet that misses.

That’s the problem, you see.  In public, every single bullet fired from your handgun will hit something.  You will not miss.  You may not hit your assailant, but you WILL hit SOMETHING.

That something may be a pregnant woman who was shopping.  That something may be a 4-year old child skipping merrily to school one morning.  That something may be 9 other people hit either by errant shots or by fragments.  Maybe you’ll get lucky and only hit brick buildings—but since you are already having to defend your life, it already isn’t your lucky day.

You aren’t going to miss.  Every bullet is going to hit something. As such, your practice needs to reflect the importance of hitting your target every time.

Now, this concept isn’t new—but I don’t really like the common “Every bullet has a lawyer with a 5 million dollar personal injury suit attached to it!!” type of phrasing, because we do not want people too scared to defend themselves.  We don’t want people thinking “I better not do this because I might get sued” at the moment where they have to be making a decision to defend themselves.

We need people thinking in practice:  I’m going to hit my target every time, and I’m going to practice enough to consistently hit my target every time.  That way, if I need to use my gun, I’ll do what I practiced so I don’t have to think about anything but saving my life.

While yes, you need to think about your surroundings in a self-defense situation, that is different from being too terrified of possible consequences to act.  We practice to hit our target at speed under stress.  We use this thought (“You aren’t going to miss in real life–you WILL hit something.”) to drive our practice so that we have the discipline to hit our target under stress in a real-life self-defense situation.

I practice differently with my competition gun and my concealment gun.  (This shouldn’t be a surprise.)  When practicing with my competition gun from my competition rig given an audible start signal, I push myself in terms of speed and movement, to the point where I might miss the target entirely.  I then dial it back until I get hits, get better at it, then dial it up again.  I push myself to the point where I miss.  When practicing with steel targets, I miss fairly often when I push myself.

When practicing to defend myself with my carry gun from concealment, on paper targets I have a small “sufficient hit” zone.  Part of the rest of the paper target is a “insufficient hit” zone, and worse than that simply isn’t acceptable.  If my technique is bad enough that I’m putting shots into the “insufficient hit” zone, I need to fix it.  My “pushing the speed” results in occasional shots into the “insufficient hit” zone, NOT the miss zone.  I don’t allow shots into the “miss zone” when I’m practicing to defend myself.

That’s significantly different from my competition training–and that’s just fine.  I might be using the same target for both, but they mean very different things.  I have a different mindset, I have a different mode of practice, and I have a different set of “what is allowed” for accuracy.

Here’s the two versions of “acceptable hit thinking” that I use for practice (of course I don’t write the words on the targets I use, but that’s how I think about it).  Obviously competition shooting is on the left, and self-defense practice is on the right:

You aren’t going to miss on the street.  So make sure that the hits you get are the ones you want.