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Defensive training, religious fervor - and you

I'll admit to not fully understanding religious zealotry, despite having studied it fairly extensively. In most major religions you can find sects who seek to fix their beliefs and observances at some arbitrary point in time, and from then on never change (or, at least, try their hardest to not change.) This leaves me to wonder: what makes their arbitrary point in time better than someone else's arbitrary point? On that very question is built sectarian warfare, as even a casual perusal of modern day conflict will show. At the very least it causes strife as each side tries to convince the other that their world view, anchored as it is to some date on a calendar page long past, really is better than the other.

The same thing happens in the defensive shooting world, perhaps even more starkly. There are sects in our field which fix their training beliefs at some point in the past and resist - sometimes vehemently - change, growth, and evolution. Statements of belief abound: "It worked then, it still works"; "if it was good enough for [blank], it should be good enough for you"; "who are you to question [famous gunfighter/branch of military/police agency]"; and so on. Rather than looking at the field of study as an ongoing and progressing work, it's viewed as an unchanging truth that only heathens would deny.

What brought this up?
Check out this video at YouTube.

Why don’t our defensive shooting courses today look like this film? I see a lot of people in the defensive training world who look reverently backward, teaching the techniques and knowledge of the past as holy writ. I wonder: if the past contains, as some contend, all the lessons about defensive shooting that we could ever need or want, and therefore have no need to seek improvement or evolve, why not go back further and further? If what was being taught in 1981 was somehow superior to what we know today, doesn't that make what people were teaching in 1961 even better? What makes one arbitrary point in shooting history more valuable, more valid, than an earlier one?

There is no answer to such questions other than a charismatic one: people adopt an unchanging world view because someone else did and was able to convince them to as well. If someone tells you that what they teach is "time tested" (meaning that it is old and therefore should be revered), ask them why they're not teaching you something even more time tested (i.e., older.) If being old is the mark of value, why stop with the FBI Crouch of 1961? Why not go back to the bullseye, hand-in-pocket stance common to police training in the 1930s?

The measure of virtually any field of human endeavor has always been progression, of learning newer and better ways to do the same old job. That's true in the defensive shooting world too, no matter how much people want to believe otherwise.

-=[ Grant ]=-

How's your situational awareness right now?

I have a quick homework assignment for you. Watch the first minute-and-a-half or so of this video (you can watch the rest later, but now we have work to do!)

You see what your knowledge tells you you're seeing. You apply whatever base comprehension you have to explain or make sense of whatever it is you're observing. That's what the truth is, really; an explanation or a point of view that fits what you observe. Whether or not that point of view is factual is ignored, for as long as it satisfactorily gives you the certainty you need you'll accept it.

The problem is when that truth is based on a very narrow or very exceptional set of observations, as was the old explanation of the sunrise looking the way it does being due to the sun revolving around the earth. At some point such a truth will encounter an observation it cannot explain; then you either cling to your version of the truth at all costs, or you change the model.

In the world of defensive shooting, we do far too much of the former. For an illustration, read
this account of a home invasion taken from The Truth About Guns. It's a short article, but it's important that you read it.

Done? Good - let's get back to our discussion of truth.

Note this line in the story: "This sad tale reminds us to maintain situational awareness […]" Sounds innocuous, doesn't it? It's not - it's indicative of a view that's dangerous. (Some of the comments are even worse; read them at your peril.)

Read the story again, focusing on the state of the victim: he was awake, bedridden, and made a conscious decision to open the door via remote control because he believed his neighbor was there. This wasn't a matter of maintaining situational awareness; he was as situationally aware as he was likely to get. It was a case of believing that the person knocking on the door was his neighbor, either because the person pretended to be or because it always had been in the past.

Both possibilities are discussed in an article I wrote some time back for the Personal Defense Network, called "
The Myth Of Situational Awareness". This incident illustrates the points I made: the criminal can pierce your seemingly invincible veil of situational awareness either via cunning (pretending to be someone he's not), or by simply waiting until you're distracted (when the pattern matching functions of your brain are in charge.) In either case, situational awareness can (and usually will) fail.

That quote from the article is a view that is all too common: that situational awareness will keep people safe, that it is the most important thing one can possibly do for one's own safety, and when someone becomes a victim it MUST be because his situational awareness wasn't good enough.

I doubt the fellow in the bed could have been any more situationally aware than he already was. He made a decision to open the door because the evidence with which he was presented told him it was safe to do so. He could have been in condition puce with mauve stripes and still have made the same bad decision.

The comment about situational awareness is one that's made far too often, and (as in this case) far too casually. The author sees what his knowledge - what he's been told - tells him he's seeing, even when that knowledge doesn't explain what happened. In this case, the knowledge is what he's been told about situational awareness. The problem, in this case, is that it doesn’t explain what happened. If that’s the case, isn’t it dangerous to simply conclude that more of it will prevent such things from happening in the future?

This is why it's critical that you think about what you're told, or at least insist that the people teaching you think about what they've been told. If their version of the truth is based on a small set of observations, particularly when filtered through tradition and fallible recollection, without rational analysis you may end up with the self defense version of the sun going around the earth.

-=[ Grant ]=-

If it's not relevant, why are you doing it?

I've written before of the need to match the training you get and the equipment you use to the life you actually lead, not the life you fantasize about leading.

What does this mean? It means that if you're training with a full-sized tricked-out autoloader on the weekends, but the majority of your waking hours are spent with a 5-shot revolver in a pocket holster, your training isn't going to be congruent with your expected use. Training done under such false pretenses is of significantly lesser value than if you’re honest with yourself up front.

It’s a better use of your limited time, money and energy to train with the tools that you are most likely to be using, rather than picking training gear because it looks cool or because it's what your instructor/guru uses or because it gives you an edge in the all-too-common class shoot-off.

Similarly, if your training event focuses on things like running through a shoot house taking out 'tangos' in various 'hostage rescue' scenarios, you're not training realistically either. You wasted training resources that could better have been used to simulate the kinds of attacks that are likely to happen to you at work, at the gas station, or in your home.

Even if you've covered all those plausible scenarios, it’s still not a good use of your resources to train in ways that aren’t similar to your life. If you take a class in advanced hostage rescue team tactics, that class will use up resources that could have been used doing things like taking a course in how to deal with massive trauma (a skill far more likely to be needed even than drawing your gun) or in de-escalation techniques or even in defensive driving. Those are skills which are far more likely to be needed for events which are far more likely to happen to you (by at least an order of magnitude) than being faced with a jihadi-infested three-story building.

"All trigger time is good" is a fallacy. Poorly planned or selected trigger time keeps you from focusing on more plausible, and thus more important, skills.

Sherman House, a dental surgeon with whom I have a passing acquaintance, has made a similar pilgrimage from tactical silliness to reality.
He recently penned an essay for the I.C.E. Training Journal where he discusses his evolution and what his training looks like today versus what it used to look like.

Great reading and very much recommended.

-=[ Grant ]=-


The toolbox metaphor, continued.

Occasionally I'll run into an instructor who is teaching appropriate, plausible skills but who insists on using the "another tool for your toolbox" metaphor. Why would he or she intentionally handicap the material in that way?

Sometimes it's because what's being taught lacks internal consistency. The skills and concepts don't relate to each other well, or perhaps the plausible skill contradicts another less plausible one. This happens when the instructor has no overall philosophy for the course as a whole, and has simply gathered what seems 'cool' from disparate sources and stuffed them all into a toolbox of a course.

Very often the toolbox metaphor is used to mask the fact that the instructor is not capable of explaining the technique in terms that the students can grasp and apply. This inability to articulate why a skill is valuable or useful can be simply due to a lack of teaching skill, but often it's a cover for an incomplete understanding of what’s being taught.

If the instructor doesn't understand the material at its core, both in terms of how to perform the skill but also the reason for learning/practicing/evaluating that skill, it's easy to fall back on telling the students that it's another tool for their toolbox. The students, having heard that saying from other instructors or seen it used in books or articles, are goaded into accepting the lack of explanation.

This is also the case when the instructor isn't capable of answering the questions that the students are capable of generating. While this is often due to a lack of deep understanding, it can also be a defense against those rare students who are wedded to a particular point of view and will not accept logic and reason when the material contradicts what they've trained previously. I speak from experience: it can be tempting to fall back on the toolbox metaphor when faced with such a vocally intransigent student, but I believe professionalism demands that I resist the urge. (It also demands that I resist the urge to hit them upside the head with a two-by-four, which I’ve so far been able to do. I will admit to being sorely tempted, however!)

It’s admittedly difficult to explain to any student that a technique or concept has a very narrow range of application, but that it still falls within that plausible range of expectation. When I teach a full (two day) Combat Focus Shooting course, for instance, at the end of the second day there is a drill that teaches a specific technique to address a specific kind of threat that isn’t adequately handled by any other method. I certainly could tell the students “it’s another tool for the toolbox”, but that wouldn’t give them the understanding they need to put the technique into context.

Instead, I take the time and expend the effort to explain the very narrow but plausible circumstances under which the technique is justified, the logical reasons why it’s the most intuitive response to that type of a threat, and why they shouldn’t waste an inordinate amount of their limited training resources practicing the technique extensively.

From the standpoint of instructional integrity I think it’s important to not allow oneself to slip into the habit of using a trite explanation like “another tool for the toolbox.” It’s far better to explain the reason for the material, its expected use, and the frequency with which it needs to be practiced to maintain a certain level of proficiency. If the instructor can do that, there is no need for the toolbox nonsense; if he or she can’t, it should give the students pause.

Whether to cover up for a lack of plausibility or to disguise an issue with the ability to teach the material, the "tools for the toolbox" metaphor is at best a smokescreen. If you're taking a class from someone who uses it in place of rational and complete explanation, it's a sign that you need to be asking questions and getting clarification before accepting the material as being valid.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Tools for the toolbox.

In many of the classes I teach one phrase (or a variation) comes up with disturbing frequency: "another tool for the toolbox." Not because I say it, but because sooner or later a student will say it.

Then comes The Lecture.

As many of my students will attest, I hate that term. When it's uttered in class I take the time out to explain why I hate it, why it's nonsensical, but most importantly why it's dangerous from the standpoint of learning defensive shooting skills.

The toolbox metaphor seems useful; you buy tools (learn skills), and then when you need the tool to do a job you can go to your toolbox, pull out the tool, and use it for the task at hand. In reality it's more like you have an overflowing toolbox full of low-quality implements, none of which you've actually used because you've not run across the need for them yet - and then you suddenly have a woodworking problem only to realize hat all of your tools are for a machinist!

The toolbox analogy is usually used to justify, as opposed to explain, a technique or concept. If a technique has a plausible use there is no need to justify it; the use itself will be sufficient justification. It's only when the technique doesn't have a plausible use that it becomes necessary to explain why it's being taught by using the self-referential toolbox analogy: "we're learning this technique to put in our toolbox because we have a toolbox to fill."

In any given class there are things which I could teach which don't really have much (if any) application to defensive shooting, particularly defensive shooting as applied to the sudden criminal attack (ambush.) They're neat, they look cool and will impress your friends, but they have no application to defending yourself against the attack you didn't know was coming. I could concoct some ridiculous hypothetical instance in which that technique might be useful, but the less relevant the technique the more outlandish the scenarios become.

Why, you might ask, would I be teaching such a thing if it really doesn't have any application to the life my students lead? That's when the toolbox comes out: you don't need to worry that it doesn't seem useful, it's just another tool for your toolbox in case you need it! The students are mollified and I can continue filling the time with things other than what the students really need to know.

The toolbox metaphor, however coyly phrased or authoritatively uttered, is a red flag that what you're learning really doesn't have a plausible (let alone probable) use, which means you're probably spending time learning stuff other than what is likely to keep you safe. The toolbox is a waste of your limited training resources, resources that might be better spent learning things that will actually save your life.

Sometimes, though, the instructor will use the toolbox to cover something that actually is useful and plausible. If something is obviously useful, why use the metaphor? I'll cover that next time.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Defensive training in context: even dinosaurs evolve!

A story in USA Today a few weeks ago is potentially good news for defensive shooting training in the private sector: the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently overhauled their own training protocols. (Please go read the article - it’s surprisingly good.)

The FBI went back through 17 years of data and analyzed the kinds of gunfights their agents faced. They concluded their training, which historically emphasized long distance marksmanship, wasn't applicable to the threats their agents were actually encountering in the field. That data convinced them they needed to instead emphasize fast, close-quarters reactive shooting. Starting in January, handgun training and qualification at the FBI changed to reflect the realities of the field.

This is a major shift for the FBI, an admission that what they've been teaching for decades didn't match the circumstances under which they were actually shooting. They figured out that they needed to train in context: under the plausible conditions their agents would need to shoot. According the linked article, that means a greater emphasis on getting good hits in realistic strings of fire (3 or 4 rounds) at realistic distances (around 3 to 7 yards.)

What they found is surprisingly consistent with what researchers in the private sector have long known: that most defensive shootings come as a surprise and happen within roughly 15 feet, or about a car length (which makes sense when you think about it.)


Why is this good news for the private sector? Because many schools and trainers base their courses, to some degree, on what the FBI does. You'll find lots of classes that use a variation of the (now 'old') FBI qualification course, shooting out to 25 yards and emphasizing tight groups irrespective of the precision required by the target. If these same instructors change to reflect the new FBI protocols they'll have their students training and shooting at more realistic distances and under more realistic conditions, which will make them safer.

There will, of course, be those who won’t acknowledge what the FBI now knows (and the rest of us have known for years.) Just recently I saw a blog post (with accompanying videos) from a shooting school in California which insisted the only way for a student to be assured of performance in a defensive shooting was to practice precision marksmanship at long distances. If they did that, the article insisted, they would 'automatically' be able to shoot closer and faster.

That's what the FBI used to think, too, but they've figured out it just isn't true. They've learned that training under false expectations doesn't lead to excellent performance when the conditions change; only training under those conditions of use will give the desired results.

The FBI has finally realized what many of the more progressive trainers in the private sector have been saying for years: training needs to be based on the realities of use, and being a "good shooter" at long distances does not magically translate to being able to efficiently defend yourself in a much closer, more rapid encounter. I hope that many instructors follow their lead and evolve their own programs in similar fashion!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Don't fall for it!

(Note: I am omitting names in this article, not because the information is secret but because I want to focus on a concept. The incidents I talk about are public knowledge and can be found with about 15 seconds of Googling; if you really want the nitty-gritty details, feel free to do the searching - but please don't bring that information in to any comments here, as I want the discussion to center on the ideas not the players. Thank you.)

This last week two seemingly unrelated events came to the attention of the shooting public. First, a trainer whose background is supposedly Russian special forces (Spetsnaz) violated some cardinal safety rules and shot an assistant instructor three times; second, a well-known shooting retailer published an article on their blog that promoted what is universally considered to be an unsafe act when holstering a gun.

In the first incident, the trainer in question has produced some videos (one of which I've seen) that show techniques I find rather dubious from a safety aspect. They're presented under the guise of being "real world" special forces training and aggressively sold to people in the private sector.

In the second incident, the writer (whose pictures and videos show a certain laxity with regard to trigger finger discipline) presented a technique for "safely" reholstering guns like the Glock. This technique required the the shooter to put the trigger finger into the trigger guard behind the trigger to ostensibly keep if from moving backward if caught on something. It was supposedly developed by a Marine-turned-police officer, whose "secret" work necessitated anonymity.

Fans of the instructor who shot his assistant tried to downplay the negligent shooting by invoking nonsensical terms such as "big boy rules" and "real world" safety. Because the instructor was formerly a special forces soldier his methodology, we were told, would be different and we needed to apply different standards of safety to him and his methods.

At the same time, the author of the article in question defended the technique by invoking the inventor's status as both a Marine and an undercover cop. Because of his undercover work, we were told, his technique was "real-world" and needed to be judged under a different standard of safety.

The linkage between the two is obviously safety, but it goes well beyond that. Both incidents are infused with a liberal amount of the logical fallacy of 'appeal to authority' - that is, the material being presented is valuable (or not unsafe) because of the position of teacher/inventor. What concerns me is that so many people will actually fall for that.

Just because someone was a special forces soldier, Marine, or police officer doesn't automatically make a technique or an opinion correct in all cases. First, because of context: just because it's valuable in a war zone doesn't mean it's applicable to you in your home; second, because the authority (real or perceived) that someone receives from his job doesn't mean that his opinions are infallible. If you assume either (or worse, both) of those you can end up adopting wholly unsafe and inappropriate techniques, not to mention the loss of valuable time training and practicing them.

It's up to you to look at everything you read, see, or experience in a class with a critical eye. Just because someone is famous or holds a certain position doesn't mean he's right! You need to ask yourself whether what you're seeing is safe, applicable to your own life, and addresses a plausible need.

More importantly, the person who is promoting that technique or idea must be able to give you more justification and explanation than simply "I'm special forces/SWAT, and unless you are too you’re not in a position to question!"

Whenever you encounter a technique justified only (or at least primarily) by the status of the person who invented or is promoting it, you should immediately question its validity. Anything you learn with regard to defensive shooting has to make sense, it has to address a real need, and above all it needs to be safe. If there isn't a rational explanation forthcoming, if all you're given is appeal to authority, then you should be extremely wary of both the material and the person feeding it to you.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Critical thinking when reading.

Someone sent me this link to
a story on about the Center Axis Relock (C.A.R.) system of Paul Castle. At the outset it's important to note that I don't think much of this "system", largely because it asks the shooter to do a number of things that aren't congruent with how the body reacts to a threat stimulus. It may or may not have some use to military or police tactical teams when in a proactive mode, but since I'm neither of those I'm not qualified to judge its tactical usefulness in those areas.

I can, however, comment on the intellectual inadequacies of one specific part of the story. In the fifth paragraph of the article, the author defends the C.A.R. system's extreme bladed position with regard to body armor. One of the criticisms of this exaggerated stance is that it exposes the weakest part of an officer's (or soldier's) body armor to the threat. The author’s rejoinder is that the system places the bones and tissue of the upper arm in a position to protect that vulnerable spot.

Seriously, that's what it says.

There was a shooting instructor back in the 1950s or '60s (whose name I'm not recalling at the moment) who recommended that the pistol be shot one handed, with the weak hand reaching across the chest to the strong shoulder to put the bicep roughly over the heart to provide protection. Gosh, why aren't we still doing that? If the bones and muscles of the upper arm are sufficient for protection of vulnerable areas, why are we wearing body armor at all?

The whole idea of body armor came about because flesh and bone have proven to be quite inadequate at stopping bullets. In fact, that's exactly the kind of material that bullets are designed to defeat. While a muscled arm may slow the bullet down a bit, it's still going to go through and into more important organs. Body armor exists because bullets go through muscles, and we've expended many resources to give people ever-better armor with fewer and fewer vulnerable areas.

The sides and arm holes are a well known weakness of all armor, and the recommendation has always been to keep the front area of the armor pointed at the threat if at all possible. There are many stories of soldiers and cops killed because a bullet (or piece of shrapnel, in some cases) made its way into the body by way of the open space around the arm - the size of the bicep notwithstanding.

There are those who will read the article without questioning. Unless they think critically, examining both the author's assumptions and logic flow, they might be caught up by the recasting of a flaw as a feature.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Double Tap.

At SHOT I made a passing comment to Pharmacist Tommy that, in the context of defensive shooting, practicing double taps was a tacit admission that a person wasn't able to control their gun. He looked at me quizzically, as I'm sure you're doing right now.

(Let's get some terminology out of the way. Most people shooting double taps are firing two rounds in quick succession with one sight picture. Adherents to the so-called "Modern" Technique would scream that the term is used incorrectly, and that they are actually shooting 'hammers'. I'll concede the point, in the same way I concede that the Battle of Bunker Hill was in fact fought on Breed's Hill - you'll note it's made no difference in elementary school history lessons, however. I'll continue to use Bunker Hill and double tap to describe what the majority hold that they describe, because arguing the point wastes my time and doesn't change the outcome anyhow.)

Let's start with a question: why practice the double tap as a defensive tactic? When I watch surveillance and dashcam videos, regardless of the training level of the shooter, I don't see the stylized double tap. What I see instead, very consistently, is a string of fire without artificial pauses. After all, bullets are what stops bad guys -- and the faster those bullets get to him, the better.

If you need to shoot your attacker six times, and choose to do so with three double taps, that means the half-second pause between those strings gives him a full second to hurt you more. How many bullets can come out of his gun in one second? How many critical stab wounds can he inflict? How far can he move? Giving the bad guy any extra time is counter to your own self interest.

How about double-tapping, then assessing (as is still the recommendation in some training backwaters)? The answer is that there is no way to know ahead of time how many shots it's going to take to make your bad guy go away. That being the case, why on earth would you stop shooting at an arbitrary point if a threat is present? The time to asses is after the threat is no longer in front of your gun, whether that takes one, two, or five rounds. Practicing to always do that at two rounds means that if your fight goes longer and you stop to make your well-rehearsed assessment, you're exposing yourself needlessly to danger.

I could go on, but my point is that the double tap makes no sense in the context of surviving a lethal attack. The logical practice routine would be to always fire a random-length string of shots: two, three, four, and perhaps even occasionally five or six. Mix 'em up; don't get locked into any one pattern.

The double tap really doesn't have a use in defensive shooting, yet people all over the country continue to practice it. I believe the answer is simple, and I've observed it in action: if you ask any random shooter, regardless of his or her proficiency or training level, to shoot a string of three or four or five rounds at the same cadence (with the same "split time", or elapsed time between shots) as the double taps they're flinging downrange, the chances are almost certain that they won't be able to do so.

What usually happens is that the first two shots land in acceptable proximity to each other, but the third will climb significantly and the fourth is usually off the target. In order to land all their shots inside whatever reasonable target area is chosen, they need to slow down - sometimes significantly. In other words, they can't control their gun at that inflated rate.

Now, just about everyone will be faster at the double tap than at an extended string of fire. The point is that the longer strings of fire are what are most likely in the context of a defensive shooting, because the natural reaction is likely to be shooting until the threat goes away. If the gun can't be controlled in such a realistic or plausible shooting scenario, then that shooter needs a different gun (or much better technique) instead of gaming his or her practice to artificially inflate competence.

Shooting double taps instead of more realistic strings serves as proof that one cannot control the gun for the use to which it is likely to be put. It's up to the shooter to recognize, admit, and change.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Data sets, plausibility, and defensive shooting.

As I sat eating lunch last week I found myself perusing a gun forum with which I'm not all that familiar. On it I ran across a post from a fairly well known trainer, one that most shooters would not recognize but those familiar with the training world might. I've never met the guy, let alone trained with him, but his comments left me distinctly perturbed.

The statement was in reference to some particular techniques that he finds important to teach. In defending his approach, he wrote "I know, statistically, it is unlikely that you'll ever need these skills. Of course, statistically, it is unlikely you will ever need a gun at all."

I’m not at all sure that he understands the implications of what he said.

Let me start with some perspective. The American Cancer Society tells us that approximately 1.5 million cases of cancer will be diagnosed this year. With the U.S. population standing at a tad over 307 million as of the last census, that puts those patients at about .48% of the population. That’s right - less than one-half of one percent of the population of the U.S. can expect to be diagnosed with cancer, which one would have to say is a pretty small number. (As it happens, it's still quite a bit smaller than the percentage of people that Kleck and Gertz tell us will use a gun in self defense the same year, by roughly half. Keep that in mind.)

Those numbers make it statistically unlikely that any one person will develop cancer in any given year; the total number of cases is small compared to the whole population. Even though cancer of all types is not terribly common, we all know that not all cancers (nor diagnoses) are equally likely, let alone have the same outcome. Some cancers are far less prevalent than others; salivary gland cancer, for instance, occurs in perhaps 6,000 people per year - compared to nearly a quarter-million who develop who develop prostate cancer. That’s a huge difference despite the fact that neither is likely to occur.

What medical science doesn't do is to flail about and proclaim that since any cancer is "statistically unlikely" to begin with, they’ll throw the same treatment at all of them in hopes that something works. That's not how science is done, and it's not how lives are saved.

Within that small data set of cancer cases there is a huge range of probabilities and outcomes. It's that very fact that enables medical science to classify each case and use the best treatment approach based on where it falls in the data matrix. Since not all are alike, all do not get the same treatment.

This extends to the research realm as well. We don't spend as much time and money developing cures for salivary gland cancer as we do for prostate cancer. We put our research resources where they will do the most good, where they will save the most lives.

Am I saying that defensive shooting is the same as cancer? Of course not. What I am saying, though, is that just because an occurrence of an event is unlikely doesn't mean that all such occurrences are the same. A small data set does not imply homogeneity; even in small data sets there are differing circumstances and results. To imply otherwise is ignorant (or manipulative.)

Of course it's statistically unlikely that at any given time you'll need to use your gun. This is not news. Needing to use a gun to defend yourself is about twice as likely as you developing cancer this year, mind you, but it's still unlikely. Just because it's unlikely, however, does not mean that all skill sets related to a defensive shooting are of equal value!

Just as some cancers are more common than others, some defensive scenarios are more likely than others. For instance, how often in private sector self defense incidents are people called on to make 100-yard hostage rescue headshots with a handgun? It may have happened somewhere or at some time in history, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find a single case - let alone any sort of trend. Is that of equal probability to dealing with a simple assault in a parking lot after dark? Of course not.

Should we train equally in the skills necessary to deal with those two disparate events simply because neither is "statistically likely"? I don't think so.

When we look at defensive shooting threats and scenarios, there are some that are possible but have rarely (if ever) happened; there are some which happen occasionally but not often, making them at least plausible; and there are those which happen often enough that we can see some sort of likelihood, a certain probability of occurrence. Our problem as students is that none of us has the unlimited time or resources necessary to train for everything which is merely possible. We have to take into account the likelihood, the plausibility, of what can happen when we make training and technique decisions.

Using the "statistically unlikely you will ever need a gun at all" argument in relation to training is a smokescreen, a way to ignore the concept of plausibility. It's an attempt to deflect the student's attention, to get them to suspend their critical thinking so that they don't question the actual value of the technique. Yes, it is unlikely that you'll need to use your gun - but saying so doesn't magically transform "possible" into "likely", and doesn't elevate a rarely needed skill into something which is vital to learn.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings

It's odd, really. This is the time of year that I pine for the long days of summer that are sure to come, and in the heat of that season I wish the early darkenings of winter would get here sooner. I guess I'm just never happy with the here and now!


The whole zombie schtick has long since jumped the shark, and my thoughts on the utility of a .410 shotgun revolver are well known. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that someone would
combine the two, and likewise it won’t be a difficult task to figure out what I think of the thing. (Thanks to Tam for ruining my breakfast with this news.)


Trying to catch up with emails, snail mails, parts orders, and everything else around the shop isn't being helped lately. You may remember that my wife decided I needed someone to keep my company during work hours, so she brought in Shop Kat. Turns out that SK is a girl, which we learned when she finally grew up enough to go into heat. When that happened I decided to take her in for a little surgical modification, but as it happens that can't be done until she's out of heat. I thought that if I kept a close eye on her during her infrequent and short outings during that time things would be under control, as I'd seen no stray cats in the neighborhood. You can guess what happened next.

I now have a pile (seven, to be precise) balls of fur who are about six weeks old. They're constantly underfoot, seem to think everything exists for their own amusement, and are generally making the shop difficult to work in. I wear an apron while I work and they seem particularly amused by the parts of it that they can reach. Anyone want a free kitten (or two?)


I've got a couple of interesting articles by Ed Harris which I'm going to run on coming Fridays in place of the Friday Surprise. Ed's got some great stuff and addresses areas of the shooting world that aren't in my normal purview. I think you'll find them interesting.


In the next month I'll be working on my teaching schedule for 2012. If you'd like to book a class now's the time to start the process!

Of course I'll be teaching my flagship Revolver Doctrine course; if you liked my book, you'll love this class! I take you through the revolver, showing you how to shoot it, reload it, manipulate it with one hand, and more. It's a one-day class that can be held on nearly any range, and doesn't require drawing from a holster. It's a great introduction for anyone who is new to the revolver, regardless of their past shooting experience.

I'm also available to teach
Combat Focus Shooting classes, both one- and two-day. CFS teaches you the most efficient ways to defeat a threat, ways that work with what your body does naturally. CFS classes are open to revolvers and autoloaders (much as I hate to admit it, I do know how to run an auto. Let's just keep that between the two of us, OK?)

A great combination is what I call the Defensive Revolver Weekend, which combines Revolver Doctrine on the first day and Combat Focus Shooting on the second. RD teaches you how to
operate the revolver, while CFS teaches you how to use it to protect you or those you love. This is a great way to take these classes, as there is some overlap which is eliminated when they're back-to-back. The result is that we get in more material than we would if the classes were separated. (This combined version of Revolver Doctrine does require drawing from a holster.)

I’m available for classes all over the western U.S. How do you go about booking a class? It's easier than you might think, and you can train for free just by hosting at your local range! Email me for the details.


Looking even further ahead, I'm considering teaching a master class on Colt revolver gunsmithing. This wouldn't happen until at least 2013, but I'd like to throw out some feelers now to see if anyone might be interested. If so, drop me a note; if I have enough interest, I'll develop the course tailored to your interests.


Well, I think that's enough for one Monday. I'm going to return some emails then go do battle with some very intimidating kittens!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Defensive training. iPhone. What's the connection?

Yesterday Apple announced a new iPhone, and with it an advanced software to add voice control to that phone. (“Siri”? Who names these things?)

Almost immediately the blogs and tech sites were abuzz with inevitable comparisons to the competition, complete with tables breaking down the products feature by feature.

I found it amusing that they all had one line that said 'voice control', with a simple "YES" or checkmark on each product. Some of the more adventurous would take pains to point out that the competition had 'voice control' for some time, and Apple was just catching up. What they failed to take into account was the relative sophistication and integration of the feature on all the products; love 'em or hate 'em, Apple's new voice assistant goes well beyond the simple "call Bill at work" kinds of control that phones have had for years. The software anticipates and evaluates natural language requests in a way that hasn't yet been done on a consumer device, and interacts with the phone's functions in a wider way than we're accustomed to.

(My best friend was the founder of a software company which did pioneering work in the field of computer control via voice recognition. Even he's impressed with how far Apple was able to push this technology, and he's about as jaded an expert in that field as you could ever find. He’s also one of the best shooting instructors I know, which gives me the perfect segue into this article’s actual topic!)

My point is not to sell phones - personally, I don't derive my self-worth from what I buy or what you don't buy - but rather to point out the folly of making bullet point comparisons. If you just looked at the bullet point of voice control and saw the checkmark, you wouldn't come away understanding the vastly different ways in which that feature has been implemented.

This goes well beyond phones, as lots of people do the same thing when they take defensive shooting classes. I call them "checklist students" - people who make decisions as to what school or class they'll attend by looking over a list of topics being covered. I've actually talked to people who have chosen one class over another because of the number of topics covered, without understanding the depth of the instruction or the unique approach of the instructor.

I've also seen students request refunds from instructors when the simple number of things they learned wasn't the same as in other classes they've attended, even though the student made no effort to understand or become competent in those things that were taught. The checklist is in control, not their desire to learn nor their appreciation of their own skill development.

There are instructors out there who will throw a million different topics into a class and give the students perhaps a couple of minutes with each, then dash on to the next item on the agenda. There are other instructors who cover a fraction of those topics but cover them thoroughly, giving students time and opportunity to really start to develop some proficiency. Unfortunately, the former tend to be the more successful - checklists, it would seem, sell classes as well as phones, cameras, cars, and just about everything else.

If you buy a phone via a checklist, the worst that happens is that you don't have the functionality of another phone. You can always get another. When it comes to your skill development, particularly the ability to successfully defend your own life, the stakes are a little higher. Make your training decisions based not on an ambitious list of topics, but on an understanding of what, how and why your instructor does what he/she does.

Leave the checklists to those who would rather brag than learn.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Context, perspective and gun testing.

Something I've noticed in the last year or so: as I've incorporated the concepts of reality-based training (RBT) in my teaching and practice, my point of view has changed. I'm not really aware of it until I'm around people who haven't had that exposure, and then the contrast becomes stark.

The realities of how attacks actually occur and our reactions (instinctive and intuitive) affect not only
how and what we train, but what we train with. My upcoming article over at the Personal Defense Network examines this idea with regard to the seemingly banal process of holster choice, and this weekend it cropped up during an informal gun test in which I participated.

I was assisting with a rifle class and one of the other instructors brought in one of the new uber-compact 9mm pistols that are all the rage. We all got a chance to shoot the thing, and the results were telling.

Most people's approach to testing a new gun is to get set into a 'proper' range-based stance, carefully line up the sights, and make a slow, smooth shot; repeat until the magazine is empty, and declare it a wonderful gun. Everyone at this range did that, and I used to do that too, but lately I've been testing guns under the conditions I expect to use them, conditions that are congruent with the gun's purpose.

For a defensive gun that means shooting as if I'm being attacked.

I'd already played with the thing, so I was familiar with how it worked and how the trigger broke. In terms of the gun's operation there were no surprises. I chambered a round and, from the high compressed ready position, extended and pressed the trigger repeatedly and rapidly. I shot at a pace that was consistent with how I shoot an Airweight 'J' frame, which frequent and realistic practice has taught me would deliver the balance of speed and precision needed to put rounds on the target (the ring in an IDPA silhouette) at the distance I was standing (about 5 yards.)

The results were awful. This particular gun is so slim and flat that the grip panels do not appreciably contact the palm of the hand, and the only points of real contact - the front and backstraps - were polished and finished in a smooth gloss. The result was an alarming lack of control when shooting at a realistic pace. My first three shots landed in the target area, but the final three drifted far to the right as the gun rotated against the pressure of my hands.

I inserted a second magazine and consciously tried to counter the torque of the little monster. The results were a little better, but the extreme amount of physical force I applied to the gun brought my group down and to the left. As long as the gun was shot sedately, like on a nice friendly target range, it performed. Pushed into a more realistic shooting circumstance, it simply failed because of design flaws - the people who built it didn't understand the context in which the gun would likely be used. They built a miniature target pistol, but they’re selling it as a fighting tool.

Are there some people who might be able to make it work under realistic conditions? Perhaps, but no one else that day even tried; the closest anyone got was to do a sequence of double-taps/controlled pairs (a shooting method which illustrates that a gun can't actually be controlled for a realistic string of fire) and the results weren't a whole lot better. Would more practice - familiarity - with the gun improve my results? Experience suggests this is unlikely, as the first couple of magazines/cylinders out of a new-to-me gun are almost always my best.

I’ve covered this before, and it bears repeating: any shooting you do has to be in context. Are you practicing for an IDPA match, or are you practicing for the time when you're surprised and in true fear of your life?

What I see when I watch videos of actual shootings isn't the carefully measured BANG.....BANG.....BANG.....BANG.....BANG.....BANG of the target range, and It usually isn’t the contrived BANGBANG.....BANGBANG.....BANGBANG of the shooting match. What I see consistently, when people are surprised and in true fear for their life, is BANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANG. That's because the human in full reactive survival mode wants the threat gone as quickly as possible, and knows that the only thing which will do that is rounds on target.

Whether or not he/she can control the gun in those circumstances is the variable, which is why I insist on training in context so that I know I can do so.

When training isn't congruent with the realities of the fight, or if the equipment doesn't work well in that context, the needed hits won't be there. We call that 'inefficient' - using more of our own resources (time, energy, ammunition, space) than necessary to achieve the goal (making the bad guy go away.)

Ironically, in these very small guns a lesser cartridge, like the lowly and maligned .380ACP, may actually be the better choice if it allows the defender to shoot with a balance of speed and precision that achieves the necessary efficiency.

The only way one can know for sure is to practice and test realistically. On this day, I did and it greatly affected my opinion of the hardware. If it weren't for the understanding of context in training, today I'd be telling you what a great little gun it is.

Just like everyone else.

-=[ Grant ]=-

King of the road.

Over a year ago I read a review of a training course on one of the gun forums. It's been long enough that I don't remember what the course was, or who the instructor may have been, so I don't think I have any dog in the fight. Besides, it's not the particulars that matter in this story; it's the student's attitude that I find most intriguing.

The person in question had taken a weekend course at some gun school and was very critical of the instruction received. As I recall, it wasn't the material itself about which he was complaining - it was the instructor's attitude. The writer was upset because the instructor had insisted that his students perform the drills as he taught them, rather than as they were used to doing. According to the reviewer, the instructor took a "my way or the highway" approach to the material being taught. This, apparently, was a Bad Thing.

My thought was (and still is) that this illustrated not a poor instructor, but a poor student.

Why does one take a course? To learn a new skill, I should think. If all a student wants is validation of what they've already been taught, then he or she should simply repeat the courses already attended. Taking a new course will naturally expose the student to new material, and doggedly resisting that exposure is counter productive for both the individual and the other students.

If one is going to learn a new skill one must first be exposed to it and then take the time to practice. If someone goes to a class and decides immediately that they don't want to do that, what's the reason for being there in the first place? If you take a class, you do it the teacher's way - that is, after all, the whole point of the event, is it not?

Ultimately the student - not the instructor - is responsible for his or her own competence. The instructor's job is to present material competently, logically, clearly, and factually, but it's up to the student to take advantage of what is being provided. An instructor who insists that, while in the class, the student practice only what has been taught isn't arrogant. (As long as the material has been clearly presented and the students have been given an opportunity to seek intellectual clarity and comfort with that material, of course.) An unyielding commitment to structure provides the proper environment for the student to become competent if he/she so chooses.

Whether or not one "likes" new material is irrelevant, as we've all had the experience of disliking someone or something until we got to know them/it better. Part of the process is habituation, which only occurs with repeated exposure. If the instructor doesn't insist on that exposure, letting the students do it their own way, how are they going to really know if it's for them? What other frame of reference can one use to make any sort of a judgement?

Note that I’m not considering the quality or applicability of the material in this argument. If the student deems the techniques or processes are silly or illogical or superfluous relative to his needs, he is always free jettison them
after class has ended. During the class, though, they need to be done the way the instructor is teaching them - and he should insist on it.

(I am not addressing the very real instances where a physical issue prevents the student from doing something the way it’s been taught. That’s a separate issue, and the instructor should be willing and able to accommodate the student’s limitations.)

"My way or the highway", to me, is simply an instructor's insistence that a student pay attention and get in enough reps to at least start on becoming competent. I think a student should look for that attitude in a trainer, not complain about it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Hyperbolic training.

Sadly, I’ve seen it before: tactical 'expert' pronounces that if you don't use his pet technique, "you're going to get hit". A variation: "well, if you don't want to take a bullet you'd better do this."

Whether or not I agree with the technique being presented, I hate that method of getting a point across because everyone knows (or should know) it's nonsense.

Take, for instance, moving off the vector of an attack (which some refer to as "get off the X") while at the same time shooting at the threat. This has been raised to a religion in some schools, and one such congregant recently defended the idea by saying "people who stand still get shot."


If that's true, then there should be a whole lot of people around (whether alive or deceased) who can be used as examples. Humans have been defending themselves with firearms for more than a century, and the huge overwhelming majority of those people had no formal training before doing so. Since they were likely not trained to move, how did they manage to survive not getting hit? The fact that they generally did leads us to question the logic behind the statement.

I'm sure that with enough digging you could find one or two, but this fellow's absolutist statement would require that there be a whole lot of those folks - and I think even a little searching will show that there aren't.

This is the case with so much defensive training: when there really isn't logic or fact behind what's being taught, instructors will sometimes fall back on hyperbole to prevent the student from asking the hard questions. There may in fact be a benefit to a certain technique, but the benefit is less than the cost; there may, in fact, be zero benefit. It's up to the student to recognize when hyperbole is being used to mask a deficiency, and respectfully ask for a logical explanation of what's being taught.

Do I believe there is a benefit to moving offline during an attack? Yes. Do I believe that it is
always a good idea to continue that movement while I shoot back? No, and I think that I do a pretty good job of explaining “why” to my students without insulting their intelligence or trying to scare them into compliance. There is a cost/benefit ratio with any defensive move, and I think it’s a disservice not to communicate that to a student.

Reason. Fact. Ask for them by name. Politely, of course!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Silliness redux.

On Monday I commented about a video from an outfit called American Defense Enterprises (ADE.) In it, a group of black-clad aspirants show us what they can do with guns. It was apparently so embarrassing that ADE actually pulled it from YouTube, but
luckily someone managed to snag a copy and put it back up (and with a far more appropriate soundtrack!)

The whole video looks like a Hollywood caricature of firearms use; the word that kept popping into my head was 'choreography'. Hmmm....sure enough, ADE is headquartered on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles. That would go a long way to explaining why the video looks more like a video gamer's wet dream than realistic defensive shooting.

You really need to watch the video, as it illustrates some vital principles about how you should NOT train. How plausible are the scenarios they're setting up? Look at the safety aspect of some of their drills - is there a benefit that outweighs the not inconsiderable risks? My answers would be ‘not very’ and ‘no’.

I'll go out on a limb here: it's damn near impossible to produce an exciting video clip of quality defensive shooting instruction, because at its core it is boring. Learning to shoot efficiently doesn't lend itself to flashy room clearing footage, and how one deals with a real threat doesn't look anything like an exciting team assault. Defensive shooting is as much about concepts and processes as it is techniques, and when was the last time you saw a blood-pumping video of a concept?

If you want to see good defensive shooting videos, you can find them at the
Personal Defense Network. If you want entertainment, watch the video under discussion.

Just don't confuse the two.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The dangers of unbridled emulation.

There is a certain segment of the training community that makes quite a fuss about teaching techniques randomly collected from SWAT teams, Special Forces (ours or someone else's), or SEAL Team Six. (It's always Team Six, because they're apparently the coolest. And the only one which the average Mall Ninja recognizes. Good for marketing, you understand. I feel for the guys on Teams One through Five though, suffering with the knowledge that they're not nearly as cool.) These classes are usually sold to the public as being "full strength" or "not watered down for civilians" or some such twaddle.

I have two concerns with such courses. First is the applicability to prIvate sector self defense and the resulting drain on our training resources. Many of these techniques, such as shooting while running toward a threat, are offensive in nature and require either attaining initiative or being part a large enough group to be able establish and maintain sectors of fire. No matter how convoluted the logic (and I've heard some twisted justifications), this doesn't have much to do with the kinds of self defense incidents that you and I are likely to face. They are a lot of fun, I'll concede that point, but we need to keep in mind that we all have limited training resources (time and money.) If one spends precious training resources doing things that aren't at all applicable to the task at hand, it means that something which is really needed won't get trained.

The second issue I have is that of safety. For any drill or any technique, the benefit of the activity needs to greatly outweigh the perceived risk. Perception, I need to emphasize, is relative. What is risky to a real-deal SEAL is very different than what is to you or me! A SEAL puts himself in extreme risk on every active mission, and as a result his training is correspondingly riskier. That doesn't mean that they take foolhardy chances, but it does mean that the nature of their job requires them to practice things that are far more dangerous than what you or I need to practice. A drill that would seem boringly safe to them may in fact expose us to an unnecessary -- and correspondingly unacceptable -- level of risk. A downrange drill (one where students are downrange of other students shooting), for instance, has some value to those guys whose job it is to kill people and break stuff; in my never-to-be-humble assessment, it has near-zero value to those of us who face criminal threats here at home.

Getting hurt in a training drill that has no plausible application to the average citizen's life is a double fail. How to avoid it? Be discerning in your training. I realize the overwhelming desire to relate one's reality-show-like adventures to the guys in the office on Monday morning, but being practical will make you better prepared. It will also ensure that you leave the class sporting the same number of orifices with which you arrived.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Marketing. Someone's gotta do it.

I saw one again the other day: an after-action review of a "snubby" shooting class. I think I'm missing the boat.

A snubnose revolver is fundamentally no different in operation than a non-snubnose revolver. It will have increased recoil, a shorter sight radius, and generally be a little harder to efficiently reload than a larger wheelgun, but that isn't sufficient difference to drop them into their own special class. Apparently some disagree, because the snubby classes are a rapidly growing subset of the training business.

This tailoring of classes to fit a specific demographic is all the rage these days. Actually, that sentence is a little generous; it's more the tailoring of the title of the class to fit a specific demographic. My general rule of thumb is that a class whose enrollment focuses on a factor external to the skills being taught is probably more marketing than anything else.

That having been said, I might someday decide to compromise my beliefs and promote a snubnose class of my own. Should that happen, I promise to feel slightly guilty on my way to the bank.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A great training weekend!

I spent this weekend up at the
Firearms Academy of Seattle teaching Combat Focus Shooting with Rob Pincus. This was the last leg in Rob's cross-country spring training tour, and a chance for me to see how he's pushed the state-of-the art forward in the year since we last taught together.

I've said that all instructors should jump at the chance to teach with (or at least observe without the distraction of being a student) a better instructor than themselves. It's especially useful to pick an instructor whose style -- and even material, in some cases -- is very different from one's own. It gives a fresh perspective and reveals the blind spots that we all develop over time.

This weekend was no exception. I came away with a whole bunch of new ideas that I hope to incorporate in my own work.

We had a good group of students, including one who had just recently bought his first gun. I always get a thrill out of watching someone go from zero to doing pretty complex tasks in just a couple of days, and this fellow really gave it his all. Two of the students were experienced instructors themselves and found that their first exposure to the advanced CFS exercises was as challenging to them as it was to everyone else.

Because the students were at various stages of ability, some came with bad habits from prior training. They weren't bad in the sense of being unsafe or dangerous but rather in the sense of not being appropriate to the task of surviving the sudden, chaotic events on which CFS focuses. We were able to have a good conversation about this important idea of context: that skills need to be judged in relation to the goal (efficiently making the bad guy go away after he's surprised you), and not to some separate and arbitrary measurement.

Marty and Gila Hayes, who run the Academy, are great hosts who bring in programs like Combat Focus Shooting in order to give their students a well-rounded view of the defensive firearms world. Even though CFS doctrine doesn't always agree with theirs, they know that perspective is important in this field. There are very few -- if any -- schools who are confident enough in the quality of their own programs to expose their students to new ideas. That's why FAS has evolved and stayed fresh over the years where other schools have become insular and hidebound.

Now if you'll excuse me I need to treat a badly sunburned elbow; apparently I missed a spot when applying the sunscreen!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Appeals to authority work both ways. Badly.

Stan Kenton was a standout iconoclast in a field of music that is, by definition, iconoclastic. Some of his albums were a difficult experience because they demanded so much of the listener. If one is not conversant with at least a little music theory, much of what goes on flies right over the head.

I remember reading, somewhere in the intertubes, a critical review of a Kenton album from just such a person. The writer opined that Kenton's music just couldn't be any good, because none of his personnel had successful solo careers.

Aside from the sheer ignorance of that comment, it struck me that this person suffered a common logic fault: looking for some sort of validation of worth or quality based on an external factor. This fellow wasn't capable of assessing the music as it stood, but instead looked to a unrelated metric to back up his opinion (a metric that was't even correct!)

This happens frequently in all fields, to include that of shooting (specifically defensive shooting.) Rather than consider the logic of a technique or concept, many will evaluate what's presented to them on the basis of who else has adopted that same point of view. I've seen the question asked in all kinds of courses with all kinds of instructors: "what police agency/military branch/well known school teaches that?" A declarative version of the question is "so-and-so teaches something else, and he was a Navy Seal/in Desert Storm/on a SWAT team."

If one doesn't understand the material being presented, either due to not putting forth the effort to do so or because the instructor isn't taking the time to explain things, then one is left to rely on an external 'authority' to make decisions. If the context in which the authority evaluates something is different from the student's, it may not be relevant. It may not even be workable.

If you don't understand what you're being taught, and why, the burden is on you to ask questions. Respectfully, of course, but you still need to ask and get intellectual clarity on the subject. If your instructor himself uses the appeal to authority, justifying what he's teaching by telling you about the large police agency or secret military organization or champion shooter that uses it, that's not the answer you need.

When it comes to protecting your life, techniques and concepts need merit -- not endorsement.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Relevance and role models.

A few weeks back I saw a picture of a defensive shooting instructor which bothered me. I couldn't put my finger on why, but something about it gnawed at my subconscious. I know the fellow only by what he's written (and by his association with a much better-known trainer), so it isn't anything that would stem from a personality conflict, and yet the feeling remained.

It finally hit me the other day. In the picture this fellow is wearing what is apparently his 'normal' complement of two autoloading pistols, both carried appendix style: one for the strong hand, one for the weak hand. Of course he had the requisite spare magazines and folding knife clipped in a pocket.

What's wrong with that? It's a free country and people should be allowed to carry whatever they want on their person. I agree wholeheartedly. The problem I have is role modeling, and it's one that I've become increasingly concerned with over the past few years.

Many instructors (and I'd say all of those with any reputation), to include yours truly, live the instructor lifestyle: we spend a lot of time around guns and shooting ranges. What we wear, what we can get away with wearing, is not what most of the people reading this blog can wear on a daily basis.

When you live on a shooting range you get to dress casually as a matter of course. Oh, there is the occasional donning of more 'dressy' apparel for an event, but such things are few and far between (and the 'gunny' is usually cut some slack for having a suit that is not of the highest quality nor properly fitted.)

Contrast this with what most people wear to their jobs everyday. I don't know many who can get away with wearing the untucked polo shirts that are all the rage amongst the appendix-carry crowd, let alone the IDPA vests and other accoutrement that a lot of folks in this industry wear on a constant basis.

In my own family there is a hospital administrator, a media anchor, and a speech pathologist -- none of whom can adopt the kind of weaponry and the style of carry that the majority of trainers espouse. My nephew could possibly get away with wearing an unbuttoned tropical shirt over a colorful t-shirt, but only because he works for a company famous for producing such tropical shirts. The rest of my family? Not a chance. My wife’s family? No. My huge extended family (over 30 first cousins on my mother’s side alone)? Less than a handful could. My neighbors? Not in their jobs. In fact, almost no one I know outside of the shooting industry could; their lifestyles, jobs, or environments just won’t permit it.

This is important because students tend to emulate their teachers, adopting not just their techniques but also their weapons and dress. The problem comes when they spend their weekends training with what I call 'guru gear' (I ought to trademark that) but switch to their actual daily carry equipment at the beginning of their week.

Training with ultra-fast appendix carry of a high-capacity autoloader on the weekend, but defaulting to a 'J'-frame in a pocket holster during the week, is not training in context: in the manner in which something will be used. Training courses are too often set up to reward the use of specific equipment, which gives the student a false sense of their abilities with the equipment they usually tote.

Walking around a range and showing students the kind of gear they can't carry, in a manner that they can't in their workday lives, isn't encouraging them to train in context. Doing so tends to influence them, through aspirational psychology, to train with gear that is different than what they'll actually be relying on come Monday morning.

I'm not sure that's terribly responsible, and it’s why the picture -- which could be of most instructors -- bothers me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What happens when a competitor goes to a tactical conference?

He discovers that maybe he didn't know as much as he thought he did.
Great writeup of the NE Shooters' 2011 Summit over at The Tactical Wire.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Someone is talking about me. Oh, wait, it's me!

Over at the Personal Defense Network,
they've put up a profile of yours truly. Based on an interview I did recently, it covers my views on teaching and the state of the training business. Hope you enjoy it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some more thoughts regarding 'force on force' training.

The limitations of the equipment that we discussed in the
previous installment aren't the only things that affect the utility of force-on-force training. The way that drills and scenarios are approached is important as well.

I'll use two terms to describe broad categories of FOF training. Drills are man-against-man tests of mechanical or physical skills: drawing the gun, moving off the vector of the attack, and so on. Scenarios, on the other hand, test decision making and information gathering skills. They may also include a physical/mechanical component, but their primary purpose is to test judgment.

At the top of the list, as it always should be, is safety. FOF training demands a sterile, segregated environment. Any course that doesn't enforce both should be avoided at any cost. The risk of accident is too high to trust anything other than a rigorous, and rigidly enforced, exclusion zone for live weapons. That means all weapons: firearms, knives, chemical and electrical weapons. The only weapons allowed inside the FOF training area should be simulated - and that goes for the instructors, too! If you encounter a FOF course where the students are required to disarm but the instructor(s) aren't, that's your cue to leave. Vociferously, I would add.

As I mentioned last time, a drill or scenario which continues past the first shot is suspect. As I’ve pointed out, the lack of ballistic effect on both ends of the muzzle means that multiple shots from a simulated handgun have little to no value. If the scenario or drill is set up so that the gun serves as a marker, a device to signal force has been used and how successfully placed that force might be, then there is no need for more than one shot. If, on the other hand, it is set up so that some predetermined number of shots have been fired or - worse yet - unlimited shots are allowed, then its value as a teaching tool must be questioned. Remember that any simulated munition has value only in that it provides first round accountability; after that, it's just recreation.

It’s common to see FOF drills that attempt to teach something which is affected by a student's foreknowledge. For instance, a student knows that he's in a FOF class, he's got a loaded sim gun in his holster, and he knows that the drill is testing his reaction time or ability to do a specific task. His anticipation of the need to shoot is sky high. If the technique works, all it shows is that the student could do it when he had advance warning of the event. Would it work if he wasn't already primed for action? The trouble is that this can't be tested in FOF, because there will always be that anticipation. FOF drills must be carefully selected so that the skill being developed or tested isn't negatively affected by that anticipation. They also can't be used to justify training that benefits from anticipation, a fault I see all too often.

I've seen FOF courses that employ students as both attackers/antagonists and defenders/protagonists. With the possible exception of what might be akin to a martial arts flow drill, where the same pattern is repeated multiple times to build familiarity, I don't see the point in letting students fight things out. The antagonist in a FOF drill or scenario is the agent by which the protagonist, the student, learns whatever lesson is being considered. I don't see where the learning occurs if both parties are ignorant of the lesson.

Allowing two students to go at each other, no matter how well coached, seems to invariably devolve to the the equivalent of a dodge ball game. This is exacerbated by the lack of ballistic effect which we discussed last time. Students as counterparts works; students as teachers, I'm not at all sure of.

Scenarios that test decision making are a natural use of FOF. Here, too, care must be taken to ensure that there is actual instruction. One flaw I see is that scenarios are designed with arbitrary outcomes, and the student spends his or her time not evaluating the environment for what it actually is but rather for what the instructor wants it to be. In other words, the scenario becomes a puzzle where the student is figuring out the instructor, not the situation. This is very common in 'tactical' shooting matches, and is part of the reason that even the best stage design isn't all that realistic. The scenario has to be designed so that the situation, the interactions, and the conclusion are all plausible.

That's easier said than done! It is very difficult for a scenario designer to avoid bringing his or her idiosyncratic biases into the design. Scenarios shouldn't be puzzles and shouldn't be difficult to figure out, but it seems that many people are intent on making them so. If the student is forced to examine vague and misleading clues in order to arrive at the 'correct' solution, how does that in any manner relate to a plausible real life interaction? It doesn't, and that's the point.

At the same time, the people playing the antagonists in scenarios have to be good actors. A thug on the street behaves in ways that we all recognize (or should recognize), and the person playing a thug needs to be able to replicate that behavior. If he/she can't, then the protagonist is back to figuring out the puzzle rather than reacting to a real stimulus. The actors must be well practiced and disciplined - again, another strike against students being used in such roles. (Heck, it may even be a big strike against many instructors. I know how a crackhead acts, but I also know I’m not a good enough actor to recreate one realistically enough to teach a student what such an interaction is like!)

This is true even in drills. The antagonist already knows what the student is going to do, or at least has a very good idea. That foreknowledge allows him to act and react in ways that a real attacker couldn't or wouldn't. This skews the results of the lesson, and requires that the instructor both take the role and be able to play it as 'straight' as possible.

It sounds like I'm not a fan of FOF. That's probably true on some level, because I don't think it has the wide application that so many think it does. I think that it has some use in very specific circumstances, but not as a general teaching tool. Its utility is probably in well thought out scenario training, and less so - perhaps much less - in simple mechanical drills. To be valuable it has to be carefully conceived and implemented, something that doesn't seem to happen all that often. It's not the ultimate test of defensive preparation, as some contend, but properly and sparingly used it can be valuable.

If, of course, it's done with care.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some thoughts regarding 'force on force' training.

Force-on-force ('FOF') training has become all the rage in the last couple of years, with some instructors making it a hallmark of their courses. Everyone, it seems, is buying Airsoft pistols and touting their FOF credentials. Supporters of the concept have done a very good sales job, as I routinely am asked if my courses have a force-on-force component.

Such questions remind me so much of my college days working in a camera store. People would walk in, look at a lens, and proceed to ask how many elements it contained. That's a useless bit of information to anyone other than an optical engineer, but these folks had been told by someone, somewhere that it was an important question to ask. They didn't understand the question, and certainly didn't know how to interpret the answer, but by golly they were going to ask anyway!

I've played with FOF a bit (yes, I bought the requisite gas-powered Glock lookalikes.) Understand that I don't claim to be guru at FOF, nor am I a super-tactical-high-speed-low-drag-tier-one-operator kind of guy. I am, however, fairly intelligent, reasonably well informed, and possess an inexorably analytical mind. I can truthfully claim to be a good diagnostician - figuring out how things work and, more importantly, why they don't. I also don't believe everything I'm told, no matter how well sold it may be.

What I see too often with regard to FOF promotion is a certain lack of critical thinking about the concepts, and it starts with the equipment used. FOF naturally is limited to the ability of the equipment, so it's important to know what the gear does and does not do.

Whether AIrsoft or simulated munition, FOF guns all do one thing: to the extent that they mimic a gun you actually own, they give you first shot accountability. That's it. Read that again, because it's important to the discussion. This is all they do!

When you discharge an Airsoft in a drill or scenario, where the first round hits will probably be pretty close to where it would have hit had you used a real gun (within the range limitations of the pellet, of course.) In other words, if you used a simulated Glock 19 and you regularly carry a Glock 19, you can be reasonably sure that the first simulated round would be representative of a real round.

Understand that this is only true if the guns match. If you use the Glock Airsoft in FOF training, but actually carry a Beretta 92, the value of that first round has been diminished. You don't know for certain that you would have shot your Beretta just like you shot the Glock simulant.

Beyond the first round, the predictive value drops to near zero. This is because of a lack of ballistic effect, from the standpoint of both the shooter and the shootee. Simulated rounds don't have the recoil and muzzle rise of a real gun, so each additional shot can be made much faster, with greater precision, than can real rounds; the shooter's balance of speed and precision is skewed. If the technique you're learning in FOF only works when you can discharge 10 rounds in under a second, how valid will that be when you're using a real gun with which you can't?

Just because a person can land multiple, fast shots with an Airsoft does not mean that he'll be able to do so with a real gun. At the very least, he'll shoot a real gun slower and with greater deviation than a simulated gun. Any conclusions drawn from the second, third, fifth, or ninth shot with Airsoft or Code Eagle has virtually no predictive quality with regard to a real gun with real ammunition.

The first time I picked up an Airsoft and started doing drills this became clear. As I was going through the exercises I thought "I'm kicking butt!" I quite literally put down the Airsoft, picked up a real Glock, and tried the same thing on the same target. Surprise! I couldn't shoot nearly as fast, with nearly the deviation control, that I could with the Airsoft gun. What, then, was the value of those extra simulated shots from the standpoint of the physical shooting skill?

The lack of ballistic effect is important on the other end as well. The pellets - be they Airsoft or paint capsules - don't stop people. There is no effect on the target other than a small sting (if that), and there is no cumulative damage. This means that where a real bad guy might start slowing down with the first shot and might be on the ground with the third, the simulated opponent can continue full speed, full power charges through the tenth, twelfth, or fifteenth round. The rejoinder, of course, is that one never knows how many rounds it will take to stop an attacker (true), so one should keep shooting until the threat goes away.

This also is true, but we have to go back and reconsider the lessons from the preceding paragraphs: you can't shoot a real gun that way, and the target won't react that way, so where's the learning happening? It's a vicious circle: with simulated guns, the more rounds you fire in an attempt to be 'realistic' the less 'realistic' the exercise becomes.

This is the basis for my belief that, in most cases, force-on-force drills which continue beyond the first shot are probably not of great value. They may be fun, may be exciting, but one has to critically examine whether they're really teaching us anything that is relevant to an actual encounter.

Next time we'll look at the structure of FOF drills and scenarios, and some of the issues they raise.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Winchester's top sellers: The Firearm Blog reports that Winchester recently released their top five (even though there are six listed!) pistol cartridges. The 9mm is not surprisingly in first place, and that favorite of law enforcement, the .40 S&W, is justifiably in the number two slot. Coming into third place is a bit of a dark horse - the venerable .38 Special.

What's most curious is the .380 ACP in fifth place. According to a Federal rep I talked with a few years back, the .380 wasn't a big seller. If I recall the conversation correctly, they only made a run of that caliber every other year, as they could easily warehouse enough for the intervening period. I suspect a combination of many new guns chambered for the round, and the big buying frenzy that resulted in widespread ammo shortages, conspired to create a pent-up demand. Once everyone has gotten their box (or two) of the
9mm Corto, then sales will drop back down to normal.

A little problem at Gunsite: According to, a man was shot in the abdomen at Gunsite a few days ago. If you’ve seen pictures of their facility, you’ve seen the shoothouse with catwalks above which allows observation of the proceedings. Apparently a man was on the catwalk and silhouetted by overhead lights; the student saw his outline and shot it. Luckily the man survived the incident and is recovering.

Gunsite says that students are instructed not to shoot toward the catwalk, but the excitement of playing searchg-and-destroy games often leads to instructions being forgotten. If you have a facility in which you've hidden shoot targets, then challenged someone to find and engage those targets (especially under any artificial time constraints), such forgetfulness should not come as a total shock.

Yes, the guy who pulled the trigger is responsible for his rounds,
and I am in no way excusing his behavior. However, it's the instructor's job to ensure that the benefit of any training outweighs the risks. I'm not sure what the benefit of having a live observer perched on a catwalk in view of the shooter is, but setting up a bank of monitors and some cameras with 2-way audio capability brings the risk to nearly zero. In this age of cheap, remote-controlled IP cameras, the practice of having people suspended above a line of fire is decidedly antiquated.

-=[ Grant ]=-

School spirit.

Rivalries among neighboring schools are nothing new. They start in high school, and continue into college: here in my slice of heaven, it's the Oregon State University Beavers versus the University of Oregon Ducks. In Texas, it's the Aggies and the Longhorns. Alumni from the respective schools can get downright cantankerous when discussing the "other" team.

So too with shooting schools. Graduates of one school (or, more commonly, one instructor) hold their alma mater or guru to possess the "true way" and refuse to even acknowledge that others exist. In the worst cases, the arguments end up sounding an awful lot like "my Dad can beat up your Dad".

This came up the other day in a discussion I had with
AFGWWWTRA. The term that sparked the conversation was "disciples", and I think that conveys the thought quite nicely. Once one has invested time, effort, and money into an area of interest it's hard to accept that there are other, competing, interests in the world which might just have validity as well. The guru becomes infallible, because if he/she isn't the disciple has wasted time, effort, and money - and who is ever going to admit to that?

I'm not immune; I went through a mild episode of school spirit some years back, but since then I've progressed a bit. I'm open to new ways of thinking and new methods of doing, and my attitude has gone from "so and so says this and it is immutable" to "show me why." The litmus test of any technique or opinion is not the logical fallacy of argument from authority, but rather that it makes sense given an open and agreed-upon criteria.

In an odd coincidence, I just started reading a book that explains this behavior, and as it turns out the concepts involved may have profound implications for self defense. They go well beyond the guru, school, stance, grip, or anything else, and deal with our behavior at a surprisingly base level. In other words, discipleship in and of itself, irrespective of doctrine or dogma, may affect how one performs in a violent encounter.

I'll have more to say when I finish the book.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

DRAW FAST, HOLSTER SLOW: Tam alerts us to a ND that happened at a Todd Green class. In his commendable reporting of the incident, Todd says "Never be in a rush to holster your pistol. We all know it, we say it, we teach it. Not all of us do it." So true.

As instructors it's easy for us to forget that reinforcement, and sometimes enforcement, are necessary parts of our job. Especially when we're dealing with "advanced" students, we tend to go easy on the reinforcement of fundamentals for fear that we'll be resented for belittling their ability or experience. We have to resist that tendency, and we need to do so consistently. When warranted, enforcement (up to and including ejection from class) has to happen.

The only instructor I've ever seen who is absolutely consistent in this regard is Georges Rahbani (
TBRIYNHO.) Even in his advanced rifle classes, which are invitation only and have stringent prerequisites, you will hear "safety on" and "finger in register" (index, if you prefer) commands at the end of a string of fire. He never wastes an opportunity for reinforcement at any level of training or ability.

When Georges encounters failures to heed commands or instruction, he has a way of bringing the point home to the student: he/she has to publicly deposit a dollar bill into a pot. (The students have a friendly shoot-off at the end of class to win the pot.) This has a non-confrontational, yet still very chastening, effect on both the offending person and the rest of the students; I've seen it work on countless occasions. I don't know where the idea comes from, but I'm giving Georges the credit.

THE PROBLEM WITH ELECTRONIC SCALES: I recently sat down to work up a new .308 load. I turned on my RCBS electronic scale, waited a couple of minutes, and starting weighing charges. Much to my surprise, the weight of the charges thrown by my powder measure increased each time! I'd forgotten that electronic scales need protracted warmup periods before accuracy and repeatability can be expected. After a half-hour of warmup, it settled down and gave correct readings. Word to the wise: keep your mechanical scales around to double check the electronic ones, or buy a set of check weights.

HERE COMES DA JUDGE: From The Unforgiving Minute comes this gem:

"The inexplicable success of the Taurus Judge still depresses the hell out of me. Taurus keeps cranking out new versions, each more grotesque, hideous and nonsensical than the last, and people KEEP BUYING THE GODDAMN THINGS. Just another sign that our culture is doomed, I suppose."

(The opinions of the contributor do not necessarily reflect the views of the Management of this blog. Then again, they just might.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Reality - what a concept.

Yesterday, Tam asked
"I laugh at the sight of the pimped tactical N-frame, too, but why?" Allow me to explain with some fuzzy dice.

Yes. You read that correctly - fuzzy dice.

If you go to a car show featuring hotrods from the '50s and '60s, a common sight will be a pair fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. They're always carefully chosen to complement the paint color, and I've even seen fastidious owners arranging the dice "just so" to get the proper look. Fuzzy dice are an accepted, and expected, part of the decor.

Take those same fuzzy dice, run over to the Tour de France, and hang them from Lance Armstrong's bicycle. No matter what color dice you pick - to go with his jersey or the bike's paint - they'll just look silly. Fuzzy dice on a racing bike? Preposterous!

Yet, objectively, the function of the dice has not changed. That is, they really have no function. They don't do anything, they serve no architectural or mechanical purpose, they simply have mass and occupy space. They derive whatever value they possess from the context in which they occur, but that value is not intrinsic; it exists only because the context allows it to exist. Think of it as Second Life with mag wheels.

Once taken out of the expected setting, stripped of the value of that context, the reality of the fuzzy dice becomes apparent. Understand this: whether on a '57 BelAir or Lance's Trek Madone SL, fuzzy dice are silly. In the former case, we don't see them as silly because we've been conditioned to accept them in that environment. In the latter, if every Tour de France competitor were to carry them for a few years - perhaps a decade or more - they would become part of that context too. They'd still be silly.

The same is true for the tacticool accessories Tam questions. (A bit of a correction: the device hanging at the muzzle isn't strictly a white light - it's a combination light and laser.) We're accustomed to seeing lights, lasers, and milspec red dot scopes attached to autopistols. In the gun rags, in the movies, and especially in video games, we're told that "serious" guns carry these things. Tough guys, warriors and operators, have these on their guns. Thus the context is constructed, such that we no longer objectively analyze the value of those things.

Putting them on a revolver takes them out of context. (After all, "operators" don't carry revolvers!) Once out of context their true worth becomes easier to evaluate, and laughter is the result.

This whole idea of context is particularly important to those of us interested in the concept of self defense. There are a lot of instructors out there who teach what can only be termed range tricks. In class, the instructor's reputation and manner of delivery combine to create a reality distortion field that even Steve Jobs would envy; in that context even the silliest ideas sound valuable. They may be useless and even counter productive, but if the student can't evaluate them outside of their context that reality will be hidden.

The same thing happens with people who get their firearms training from Hollywood - what I've heard called the "Mel Gibson School of Firearms". In the movies, the good guy always orders the bad guy to drop his weapon. The good guy gives the bad guy a chance to redeem himself, to straighten out his horrible life and repent for his sins. Naturally the bad guy doesn't take that opportunity, wheels around to shoot the good guy, at which point our hero drops him neatly with a single shot. Roll credits.

Inside the context of the movie script, this seems perfectly plausible. Through repetition the scene is burned into our subconscious, to the point that we start to accept it as normal. Unless we learn to force ourselves to evaluate the behavior outside of the theater we may find ourselves repeating it.

This apparently happened to a certified good guy up in Washington a few years ago, who faced a gunman in a mall. From all reports, it seems the good guy drew his legally carried gun, then challenged the bad guy to drop his. Life isn't like a movie, and the rampaging gunman simply shot him - five times, paralyzing him permanently.

It's important to develop both the ability to look at things objectively and critically, and the judgement to recognize when it's necessary to do so. I'd say that anything dealing with defensive firearms needs such evaluation.

As for fuzzy dice...

-=[ Grant ]=-