The Irony of Slow is Smooth

It seems in today’s world the term “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” will get you labeled as someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about or my favorite, “putting out dated information”. I generally avoid the subject, not because I agree with those who are opposed to this idea. I avoid it because the conversation requires a higher understanding of the idea in the first place.

An Origin Story

A good place to start is where did this phrase come from, where did it originate? The credit gets tossed around a lot, but it originated from the special operations community. The wet side, a long time ago. Those who have an opposing view don’t know the origin or the history. What is troublesome when you don’t know the history is how it was originally intended and applied. This concepts has far reaching applications, not just shooting. In the shooting world, it is typically applied from a single plane. There is either a lack of ability or experience to see it from multiple planes. It is not just a mistake thinking it is strictly one dimensional, it’s counterproductive.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

When moving at full speed, the top of the food chain make their actions look fluid and automatic. Mind you, I’m not just talking about shooting. If we were to shift focus to assaults, a chaotic and complex operation you might develop a deeper understanding and appreciation. One will see this carefully orchestrated activity be executed with incredible results in some of the most dangerous situations imaginable. There has been an extensive train up to allow for the chaos in the most efficient manner possible. We did not arrive at this ability simply by ignoring decades of development in the training. There is a meticulously executed training plan to build up to the ability to not only run at full speed, but make critical decisions in compressed time periods under enormous stress. The bigger picture.

Outrunning Your Headlights

CQB Shoothouse
The Proving Grounds

How does one accomplish this task? It is simple, but not easy. First, it doesn’t happen overnight. For these skills to be truly developed to an automated nature it takes time and making a lot of mistakes. When I was tasked to deliver this training I used simple ways to determine if the individual was outrunning their headlights. During their run, there were simple problems, almost too simple, where if the assaulter was moving beyond their capabilities would make a mistake. When debriefed and queried why they made the mistake most of the time it had to do with not “seeing” the problem. I cannot tell you how many times I would have to tell someone to slow down to avoid making the same mistakes again. To remind them making a mistake at this level is unacceptable, but more importantly avoidable. The mistakes were avoidable if, and this was a big if, they could see the correct series of actions and decisions before required to execute said actions or decisions. Those who made the most mistakes and repeated mistakes were easy to spot. They were moving way faster than they could prosecute the available information.

A Linear Progression Approach

The term, “crawl, walk then run” was often used in conjunction with “slow is smooth”. The assaulters needed to start off slow, like at a literal crawl pace in order to learn the techniques. When they could slow down and see their decisions being made in real time, learning was much easier. It was those who insisted on going faster their skill level that tripped over themselves, at times literally. So, how does this apply to the shooting world. Before you can be expected to execute any action or activity, it must first be flawlessly developed. The only way to accomplish this task is by slowing down so the end user can see the action required, to the level of precision needed to complete the task. Before you can expect to have a one second drawstroke, you must first understand and be able to apply the fundamentals of the drawstroke. You developed this skill by thinking your way through each step so you can apply the required level of precision to your movements.

Master the Fundamentals

I was asked a long time ago how to develop speed in shooting. My answer to this day remains the same. You minimize the amount of movement necessary, then perform said minimal movement precisely enough for the task at hand. You want to shoot faster, then master the fundamentals. The absolute minimal amount of movement necessary. When we look at shooters technique at the granular level it is often covered in dirt. It is not clean. All that dirt prevents you from moving as precisely as you can or as necessary as the shot requires. This to me epitomizes the notion of “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. Because when trained properly, the thousands of work hours allows the observer a glimpse into the closest thing to perfection we can possibly attain.

The Forging Process

Flawless execution

There will remain flaws in our techniques. These flaws exist because for some reason we prioritized something else in the required action and performed them less precise than what the situation dictated. I preach the slow is smooth mantra anytime we are teaching assaults or tactics. But I also preach it when we are teaching shooting. It comes out of my mouth about a 100 different ways in class. Most of the time in the form of a question. Why is this shot not where you were aiming? I’m looking to see what the student can recall. What did they feel, and see at the moment the shot was fired. Most of the time they cannot recall. They cannot recall because they were moving faster than their capabilities allowed. When the student can slow their movements down it allows them to perfect their technique. This smoothing out of their technique then allows them to incrementally accelerate simply by being more efficient. They accelerate to the point of failure. When they can recognize this failure point they truly have arrived as a competent gunman.

Where Does the Smooth Come From

The standing order I give all students is only shoot as fast as they can guarantee the required hits. Those that have been exposed to the slow is smooth mantra have a higher success rate than those who have not. Starting slower gets you to your goal faster. You ingrain the proper neural pathways and therefore it helps to accelerate the learning process. When you slow down you can start to internalize the tacit knowledge. This knowledge is difficult to express or verbalize. It is more like intuition that is developed with experience and this is where the smooth comes from.

It’s About Making Fewer Mistakes

At some point we do want to be going fast, but fast without the proper building blocks is a sham. Anyone who tries to tell you anything different is suspect at best. When you begin to perform at the top levels and are producing excellent results, it is because you have followed a simple formula. You developed your technique or the mechanics to almost a flawless level. It took you slowing down to accomplish this task. Then you applied your technique over and over building competency through consistency. It is as this point you become efficient or smooth. Then you start to see your movement speed performed with fewer and fewer errors or overall time. The byproduct is you are faster. Not because you are moving faster, of course that is a byproduct. You are faster because you are making fewer mistakes at the granular level and producing results.

When I ask people if their goal is to perform whatever their skill to the subconscious competent level they invariably answer of course. When I ask them how they intend on getting there I get a response that reminds me of banging your head into the wall. The fastest way to see progress is by understanding there is a process; technique (slow), consistency (smooth) and then intensity (fast). When you come to this understanding, you improvements mean more and you start to understand what it means to festina lente.

Performance Degradtion

Practice

Going Down Hill…Fast

How much time off does it take to see a meaningful degradation to your developed skills? How much can you get away with before the detrimental effects cost you in performance?

Hard Work Pays Off

ProDev
Practice, practice, practice

Something that is not often talked about is performance maintenance. Specifically how much maintenance needed to sustain your current skill level. Whatever the skill level it will require effort proportionate to the skill level. Consider these two parts to this equation. The first and hardest part is acknowledging you will have to continue to put in hard work. This is sometimes difficult to convey to the masses. Nothing is free and if you worked hard to develop the skill, you will have to work equally hard if not harder to sustain the skill. The second part is how hard do you need to work to sustain the skill. I often associate this with what is the intensity and frequency of my practice needed to sustain a specific level.

Forced Time Out

I voluntarily took some time off from training recently. All training; shooting, lifting, grappling and striking. I wanted to enjoy the holidays and figured I deserved some time off. Then I got ill and that added more time off than I expected. It was about six weeks off completely before I got back to the range for some live fire training. The results were more than disappointing. They were shocking. At least to me. I saw a noticeable increase in my failure to meet minimum standards on baselines. These are simple drills used to evaluate a battery of skills. Every now and then I will fail a baseline drill, but the failure is a rarity. In this case, I failed on over 70% of the drills I shot.

Acceptable Levels of Failure

Honestly, I was expecting a little dip in performance, but I definitely wasn’t expecting such poor results. It wasn’t only on my first trip back to the range, but the next couple before I started to see my skill level normalize. When you see performance drop after an extended absence what can you expect? Well, at the very least the same if not worse. The hard part is being able to put some concrete numbers in place to help people appreciate this situation. When you take time off for whatever reason it will have negative effects on your performance. Again, the question is how much and is that still within acceptable limits.

A Journey of Discovery

This means you first have to establish some baseline standards. I suggest at least a half dozen different drills. Drills of various tasks, under various conditions to various standards. You need a broad scope to truly appreciate your hard work. From there, you want to experiment. What happens when you take two weeks off, 3 weeks off and 4 weeks off from training of any kind to include dry fire. If you are still able to pass your battery of baseline drills with up to 4 weeks off that signifies you have a well adapted set of skills. Truthfully I see that in a very small segment of the shooting population. The vast majority will see poor results within 2 weeks of no training.

The Hourly Evaluation

Something to think about is the details of your journey measured in hours. The more hours of formalized training/instruction you have under your belt, the more likely you are to sustain longer droughts. An example would be if you are an elite level shooter, then with 6 weeks off due to an injury or illness you can probably expect to shoot at the advance level when you return to training. Most would agree that advance level shooting is more than adequate to meet many of shooting standards and therefore not a significant penalty (other than to the ego). Now, if you were to consider a basic level shooter who takes off 2 weeks can probably expect their shooting skill level to be at the beginner level when they return. Which is one of the reasons we see so many students who fail to break the basic level.

Experiments Are Fun

I conducted an experiment where I took a 12 month period and partitioned it into 30 day segments of training. The first 3 months were a combination of dry fire and minimal live fire. The next 6 months were dry fire only and the last 3 months were back to dry fire and minimal live fire. When I say minimal it was no more than 50 rounds of ammunition. What I discovered was dry fire did indeed help me not only sustain my performance, but actually improve by a few percentage points. The reason I bring this up is if you are not going to routinely live fire train, then at least setup a consistent dry fire routine. The benefit of investing in a consistent training plan is to help bridge the gap when life makes it hard to practice. Most take for granted the challenges of sustaining their hard earned skills. Don’t be complacent or at the very least acknowledge your likely skill decline.

The next challenge is in trying to assess the different skill levels, not by achievement alone, but by how hard to maintain. What I have discovered is that

Dry Fire Doesn’t Work Unless…

Dry Fire 2

If Its Worth Doing, Its Worth Doing Right

There are many general truths in this world that I follow on a regular basis. One of my favorite maxim is “you get out of it, what you put into it.”

Winning Means Sacrifice

During the pandemic we all had to suffer and many things changed. We changed the way we see the world and we changed the way we see many of our politicians. Some not in a good way. One thing that didn’t change for me was the drive to train. It might have been modified a little, but at its core it did not change. When I say drive to train I’m talking about the urge to improve or what I sometimes reference as an insatiable act to win. Winning can be defined differently for many people, but I define winning as in some way, shape or form related to victory. Consistency putting in the effort to improve is about a lot of things, one thing often overlooked is sacrifice.

No Such Thing As A Natural

If you want to be better at something, anything it will take practice. No amount of natural skill will ever replace hard work. So, what happens when you don’t want to put in the hard work, well is is pretty simple. You continue to suck. I put a lot of clout into the importance of live fire training, how it is irreplaceable for shooting skill development. What happens when you cannot conduct live fire training. Like during a pandemic when not only did we have to deal with lockdowns, but an ammunition shortage. I know I’m not the only one who saw a dramatic decrease in their live fire training during the pandemic. It seemed to me a perfect time to evaluate how well dry fire really works. Nothing like a semi-forced experiment to shed some light on a subject.

What Reality Really Looks Like

Before the pandemic it was quite normal for me to shoot around 200 rounds during each range trip. I would often get one maybe two range trips in per month. A low end average was approxmately 3,000 rounds per year, per weapon system. This excluded the rounds fired for demonstrations during training or insturction. This was my own private professional development. The number dropped to maybe 800 on the low end, 1,000 on the high end during the pandemic for my an annual expenditure of live fire training. That is about an 65% decrease for those wondering. This could have incredibly important implications. My experiment was simple, is there a way to sustain your current skill level or better improve your current skill with dry fire training only?

Dry Fire
Deep practice and concentration are key…

The Heart Of The Experiment

One of my pet peeves is when someone who really cannot help a student, presumably an instructor will tell the student to just do more dry fire practice. They make this suggestion partially because they don’t know how to solve some of the stubborn shooting errors. In this case, I wanted see how much dry fire would sustain my skills. I purposely went to a specific dry fire routine to discover for myself what was really going on with my skills. Then, when I spoke with a student about dry fire I could put something more tangible other than “because” as to the why. The length of the experiement started at six months. It included a live fire baseline assessment of various shooting drills in the beginning. The baseline was designed to have a wide scope of evaluation and was only 50 rounds total. This live fire along with the dry fire routine was repeated for three months, then for the remaining three months dry fire only.

Confused By The Data

Some very intersting things happened. First, my dry fire was daily and consisted of approximately 50 dry fire trigger manipulations from a variety of conditions. On target, at a ready position and from the holster both open and concealed. Once I had my system down it took 15 minutes from start to finish. Some drills were timed while others were subjectively based as to whether I considered it a good repetition or a “no rep”. At the end of the six months I shot the baseline drill again and I saw a 3% decline in my performance. Well, that wasn’t what I expected, but there was still a nagging question.

What The Numbers Really Say

What if it was more about sustainment. In other words, I only lost 3% of my observed skill level over a six month period with dry fire and 200 rounds fired. I don’t know about you, but I see that as a big win. I extended my experiment for another six months without any interruptions. These next three months were again dry fire only bringing the total to six months. At this mark, I saw something interesting. I was looking at a 2% improvement, I had somehow made up a 5% increase in the nine months of this experiement. I’m not going to lie, I was giddy as all get out and I could hardly wait to see the end of the experiement a full 12 months to see what would happen. At the end of my experiement my total rounds fired was 400 rounds and I saw 5% improvement for a grand total of 8% over the period of the experiment.

Easy Come, Easy Go

What did all this mean in the end for me. Consistency. Let’s face it a 5% improvement is not that big a deal. Or is it? When you realize I was not training nearly as often nor to the same volume it is pretty damn impressive to see the improvement as far as I’m concerned. It also puts to bed the question “does dry fire help.” I don’t think anyone doubted it, no one had any data or figures to help show a tangible benefit or justication for your time, talent and treasure. Now, here is the bad news. Shortly after this past holiday I got a nasty case of bronchitis. Add to that my voluntary time off from training, all training and it was about 30 days. I literally threw all that work out the window in 30 days. My skill level dropped significantly in that time period. I believe that is more telling than the 5% improvement. I wish I had shot the same baseline but I didn’t. What I observed instead was a massive failure. Five out of the eight drills I failed to meet the standard. Those who know me, know that is huge.

The lesson to be learned here is don’t go crazy, keep it short and simple, but above all else…be consistent. Dry fire can at the very minimum help sustain your skill and depending on the individual even help improve over time.

The Importance Of Failure

Failure 1

Failure Is Sometimes An Option

Don’t think for a moment that I haven’t failed, whether in life or on the firing line. Believe me, I have learned the importance of failure since I have failed more times than I can count.

Understanding The Lesson

I’m okay with the vast majority of my failures because I choose to look at them as lessons. The hard part is really listening to what the failures tell us. When I’m coaching students during diagnostics the first question I will ask them is “what did they feel.” I’m not asking about their emotional condition, I’m asking them to listen to their brain and body to understand the importance of failure. What did they tell you about the last shot or evolution. This is probably one of the hardest concepts to get across to students. That it is okay to fail and in fact we should fail often. As long as we are willing to look deeply at the failure and try to understand the lesson.

Fast Failures

We place a high premium on repetitions to help students learn new skills. I ask students to move at a speed they can think their way thorugh the drill. When we approach the target, I ask what did they feel. My hope is they were paying attention and can gleam something as a result of their slowed processing speed. This doesn’t come easily to many so my philosphy is to fail fast. What I mean by this is the faster we can fail, the quicker we can learn. It boils down to being able to perform the same drill or relatively the same drill over and over to the point you start to pick up on the micro level details. By quickly getting to the failure point we are able to make a mental jump to the learning point.

Healthy Risk Taking Is Good

Failure 2
Failing fast and failing forward are good

With the idea of failing growing more comfortable, we start to shift our mental focus to more about how does this failure lead to success. That leads us to a failing forward mentality. This allows students to embrace their own learning cycle. Some will learn faster than others, requiring less mistakes. Others will take more mistakes to truly begin their learning cycle. Nothing in this world will be achieveable without a little risk taking. There is a balance we all need to seek, right at the point of healthy risk taking. You have to be comfortable taking these risks so you can experience the lesson they provide you. There is a big differnce between letting loose in a semi-controlled manner to complete choas and unsafe.

It Boils Down To Failing Often

Adults learn differently. They have several self-imposed barriers that prevent them from reaching new levels. Failures impact us twice as much as successes. Which is why as humans we are happy staying in our comfort zone. The thrill of victory pales to the agnony of defeat. There is little gained by staying in your comfort zone. Life is best experienced on the edges. In our classes there are standards all must achieve. What so many students don’t learn until it is too late is the importance of failure. To fail early, fail fast leading to failing forward. My biggest advice to new students or even returning students is to go slow and fail often. These are the two most vaulable traits a student can bring to a class.

Getting to the point of getting comfortable being uncomfortable has taken me years to master. But, I feel the most alive and accomplished when I’m outside my comfort zone.

The Sloppy Shooting Grip

Not Every Drawstroke Will Be Perfect

At some point, everyone will experience a drawstroke that produces what I call the sloppy shooting grip. The purpose of training is to develop the skill to produce an optimal shooting grip during the drawstroke, but what do you do when it doesn’t.

It All Begins With The Grip

For as long as I’ve been carrying a handgun I’ve preached about the importance of obtaining a crush grip. The crush grip begins with the handgun in the holster. Regardless of the holster’s location on your body, it is imprerative the grip on the handgun while still in the holster be the final firing grip when on target. There are a lot of variables at work durning a drawstroke. Such as, are you open or concealed? Are you standing or sitting? Are you dynamic or static? Every one of these variables can negatively impact the precision with which you grip the handgun. The more precise you grip the handgun, the more likely you will be precise with your aim, with your trigger control and with recoil control.

There Is No Doubt

The question about what to do when you get the sloppy shooting grip is the one we try to answer with redirects or avoidance. What I mean is when you get a sloppy grip the response in turn is “don’t do that” or “grip it correctly”. While I agree those are correct, they don’t deal with the immediacy of the situation. Should you be called upon to use your handgun in a defensive situation and you get a sloppy grip what have you done to prepare. Like anything in the world, if something can go wrong it will go wrong. If the possibility exist you can get a sloppy grip as a result of some of the variables discussed earlier then we need to have a plan. The plan is more about how to deal with the sloppy grip in real time.

You Might Want To Take A Split Second

When we talk about the sloppy shooting grip I break it down into either a catastrophic or workable. A workable sloppy grip means it is something I can improve. I can take a split second to adjust my grip or improve it’s positioning over its current state. It may not be perfect, but it was better than it was when I started. This happens a lot during the drawstroke with subcompact handguns. It is already hard to get a good shooting grip on the smaller handguns because they lack surface area. Add a little speed, concealment and or pressure and it can go sideways real fast. What I have discovered is that by developing a master shooting grip with my compact or full size handguns it has taught my body and specifically my hand how to grip. Over the years, my fingers and thumbs just move to the correct position and apply pressure. When I get the sloppy shooting grip with a subcompact handgun it is usually as I attempt to clear the holster. From there, my hands naturally want to adjust and I just let them. The result is an improved shooting grip that is more than adequate for the scenario.

Dirt Diving Is Fun & Beneficial

Things are a little different with a catastrophic sloppy grip. This means that I will not be able to improve the grip without taking additional remedial action. It could be a result of clearing the cover garment. The hand gets snagged requiring you to adjust your grip completly to free your hand to obtain your shooting grip. Another example might be bobbling the handgun during the drawstroke. It may actually slip or partially slip from your grasp. If you are injured and physically cannot obtain the normal shooting grip I would also consider this catastrophic. Our goal should be to avoid the catastrophic grips and adapt to improving the workable grips. Sometimes working through a few possibilities is all it takes, we call this dirt diving. You discover simple, yet effective ways to avoid or manage through this process. They are taught as contingencies in our curriculum.

While a slopping shooting grip is not ideal, it is not the end of the world. There are little things you can do to adapt and still achieve the desired outcome, effective fire to stop the threat.

Weak Side Carry

Weak Side Carry 2

Backup Guns & Weak Side Carry

Carrying a backup gun comes with its own challenges. One of the biggest is when carrying on the weak side or more commonly referenced as weak side carry.

Old School Carry

When I first started carrying a backup gun the majority was from a weak side carry. At the time it seemed the best balance and those who were carrying backup guns typically carried them this manner. I liked everyhting about weak side carry, it was fast, allowed me to have weak side access and doubled as a close contact option. I first learned about this method from some true masters, an old school group of cops who routinely dealt with violent felons. What struck me the most about their preferred method was how it wasn’t optional, it was mandatory. Due to the nature of their business there was a real possibility they would go to guns. Because it was mandatory and the risk was high, there was deliberate practice and qualification to maintain this skill.

What Are The Odds

Over the years my viewpoint has changed. Not about the legitimacy of the technique, but the likelihood anyone outside of that job description would actually carry in this method. Truth be told, we haven’t seen a weak side carry method for backup guns in our classes for well over eight years. In our Concealed Carry Instructor course there is a block of instruction speficically on backup guns. Nobody has brought a weak side carry. I use to start the demonstration for this block of instruction with weak side carry. It became more of nod to history than practical application. Those I know who continue to weak side carry do so because that is what they know. That is what they have developed to a high skill level.

It Is Not Always About Speed

As I mentioned, it was fast. When executing a transition, it was by far the fastest. The problem, it wasn’t always the most accurate. Unless you invested time into not just developing, but sustaining your shooting skill from the weak side it was questionable at best to meet common accuracy standards. The flip side, most defensive gun uses occur at close range, range close enough that high level accuracy skills are not always necessary. But, should you have to shoot from behind cover and extend your range you are looking at distances that might be more challening off the weak side. Not only did you have to work weak side shooting techniques, but weak hand only shooting techniques. I still find this to be valuable practice since as an instructor it is important to demonstrate off both sides. I don’t need a high level of skill, but I need to be safe and competent.

The Utility Of A Knife

There could be times when you find yourself in a situation you cannot access your primary carry gun because your strong hand is occupied. Typically in some form of clinch, grip or entanglement. In this case, transitioning to your weak side carry can easily be brought to bear. Again, within these typical engagements you are within close range, most of the time at contact range. If you are at contact range, you can use contact weapons such as knives. I believe this is a strong argument for carrying a fixed blade weak side or midline. Should my strong hand be occuppied for whatever reason, the transition to a fixed blade at contact range is extremely effective. When you consider the difference between carrying a backup gun versus a fixed blade, the weight alone is a strong argument. Not to mention, the utility of a knife in other situations.

5-Shot Power Play

Contact Shots With Backup Guns

One good argument for carrying a backup gun on the weak side was should you be in contact range, making contact shots with my backup gun is real possibility. At the very least, near contact and off angle shots. Near contact can be fired from your contact or retention position. Off angles shots come into play when the threat is no longer in front of you or at the same height as you. For contact range work, the best backup gun would be a lightweight snubby revovler. Revolvers have far less potential of stoppages due to being at contact range. Truth be told, the unit I observed was carrying a 5-shot J-frame revovler as their backup.

The Better Options

What you are left with as far as carry locations for backup guns will be pocket carry, ankle carry and deep carry. The commonality about all of these carry locations is how they are strong hand driven. If carrying a backup gun is a requirment for you, but you don’t feel developing the skill on your weak hand is ideal, then staying on your strong side will be best option. You could even go so far as to carry a subcompact version of your primary carry gun to maintain familiarization. The point I’m trying to make is in today’s landscape carrying a backup gun is not frequently practiced. I believe there are a few good reasons why, the biggest being improved reliability and capacity of the primary carry guns.

I’m not overlooking other situations such as your gun being damanged, lost or your strong hand/arm is injured. What I’m saying is the fast majority of folks who are currently carrying a backup gun are carrying for a strong side draw.

Reasons You Don’t Need a WML

Weapon Mounted Lights

Big Reasons You Might Not Realize

Is there a reason to have a weapon mounted light (WML) on your handgun? Absolutely, but there are more reasons you don’t need a WML than you might think.

Needs Vs. Wants

The good news is technology has advanced far since I was first issued a weapon mounted light on my pistol in the Navy. We had them for a while and were waiting for suitable holsters to use them operationally. The logistical train will always play a game of catch up compared to new product development. They made doing our jobs a lot easier, with a high sex appeal to boot. Today, you can literally mount just about anything to the utility rails common on most handguns. This doesn’t mean you should. There is a big difference between a “need” and a “want”. Most people want one, but they don’t need one. And that is totally okay.

Totally Dark Locations

When do you need a WML? When you can no longer positively identity the target with the available lighting condition. When you cannot see enough to make the decision to employ deadly force. Here is a great bit of trivia to digest. When the lighting conditions diminish enough you can no longer see in color, you are legally blind. It is in these conditions you need additional lightening to be sure of your target. Hours of diminished lighting typically go from the beginning of nautical twilight in the evening to just past nautical twilight in the morning. The problem, most of us live in areas with lighting all day long. It is very hard to find a good reason you would be in a totally dark location in the first place.

Enough Ambient Light

Even in those places, there will more than likely be some form of ambient light. There has to be some form of light for the criminal element to perpetuate their crime. They don’t need enough light to identify their target, they just need to know you are there. Even then, how much light do you need when you are the victim of a violent crime. It is very rare you would be able to draw your handgun to use it in advance of an attack in public. When most violent crimes happen at contact range, how necessary is your WML to positively identity the target. 

Home Invasions

Change the scenario somewhat to low light conditions in your home and things are a little different. If you must investigate a disturbance late at night or diminished light, having a WML is a good idea. As you move from reaction mode, to action mode it will help to have the light attached to your handgun. Being able to work doors, move people or even fight with an intruder make the WML an advantage.

Violating Personal Rights

Would you be forced to use your weak hand to defend while you grip the handgun with your strong hand. Absolutely. However, by the time this part of the situation has developed you are well passed positive target identification. Should you need to carry someone or move people would have a WML be helpful. Possibility, but it is not necessary. You can manage people while holding a handheld light the same as if you had a WML. Another issue to remember is deadly force justification must have been meet for you to draw your handgun. So, if you wanted to use your light because you are not sure about someone or some place, should you be wrong you just violated that persons rights. Reasons you don’t need a WML are pretty varied, but the point is they exist. 

Reasons You Don’t Need a WMLConsidering Long Term Sustainability

Even if you have a weapon mounted light, you still should have a handheld light. The utility of a good handheld light outweighs the times you might need a handgun. It is much easier to deploy a handheld light by mistake than a weapon mounted light. The added advantage of having both is something to consider as well. If your body style, wardrobe and environment allow for the added bulk and weight you are set. Reasons you don’t need a WML might also have to do with sustainability. The question you have to ask yourself is how sustainable is that load out. Can you do that everyday? Maybe, maybe you can. Just remember, if you are involved in a deadly force encounter you are a statistical anomaly. Add hours of dismissed lighting where a light would be necessary to positively identity your target and that statistic shrinks significantly.

There is a big difference between a need and a want. Make sure you know the difference and can support the load out for the long term. 

Trigger Finger Consistency

Placing Your Finger In The Same Position Matters

In anything we do, the ability to be consistent is what helps us improve. One area in shooting overlooked is trigger finger consistency as it relations to placement.

Working To The Minimum Standard

When you fail to move the trigger finger to the same location on the trigger you can’t be surprised by the inconsistent results. Because there is a lack of trigger finger consistency there is an inability to generate the same results. Proper trigger finger placement must accomplish three tasks. It must move to the same location on the trigger, the same position on the finger and the same pressure applied. Each of these tasks must also be performed almost simultaneously. Most shooting errors can be tied to one of these tasks. While you don’t need to be perfect with each of these tasks, there is a minimum standard. 

It All Starts With Location

When we talk about minimum standard it generally gets a negative view. But, this is the minimum level to achieve the desired outcome. It should be a good thing. When it comes to trigger management there is a minimum standard for each of these tasks. As you work to improve in this area I find it hard to try and correct all three at one time. Starting with the easiest one is your best bet. I recommend the location on the trigger to start. It is easy because there is a tactile index that can help. When we place our finger on the trigger, we want it low for increased leverage. The lower the better and so when we can feel the bottom tip of the trigger we are at the lowest point. Placing your finger right at the bottom should be something you can “feel”. This feel will help create consistency. 

Its A Right Angle

Trigger Finger ConsistencyFrom there, the position on the finger is probably the next easiest to improve. You want the trigger finger placed deep, up to the first knuckle for power. The more power you have, the smoother the movement of the trigger. I use to think this was the biggest issue when it came to position. What I have learned watching hundreds of students struggle is it is more about how you interface with the flat surface of the trigger. If you point the tip of the finger back, it applies pressure to the side. If you point the tip of your finger forward it applies pressure to the side. Only through applying pressure to the flat surface will you move the trigger straight to the rear. The minimum standard here would be the tip of your trigger finger is pointing 90 degrees. 

Dry Fire Is Your Friend

Trigger movement is probably the hardest to develop consistency. You have to be behind the gun firing to truly develop the skill. My biggest suggestion is to slow things down, way down. You need to feel the stages of the trigger’s travel so you can control its movement. If you fail to recognize this point, you will fly over your trigger errors. The best recommendation I can make is to work on the first two tasks through dry fire. These are more about proper positioning. Getting it right, time after time. Working at moving the trigger finger from the home position to the trigger is an easy drill that requires no resetting of the fire control. You literally move it from these two positions checking to make sure you met the minimum standard. Which are the bottom edge and 90 degrees. 

Practice this so you develop consistency in the overlooked aspects of trigger management. Get better here and you will see the improvements in your shooting quickly. 

Three Subcompact Shooting Tips

Shooting Subcompact Pistols

Shooting A Subcompact Pistol Hard & Fast

I love shooting demonstrations in classes, especially with subcompact pistols. I typically share three subcompact shooting tips to help improve your performance on this tiny blasters.

Get Stronger, It Fixes Most Problems

Shooting Subcompact Pistols Well
Heavy Farmers Carry

Nothing in this world is free. You have to pay in some way, shape or fashion. If you want to shoot subcompact pistols well you will have to improve your grip strength. There is no getting around this through equipment or after market modifications. There is no averting this fundamental truth, just get stronger. Grip strength is one of those subjects talked about a lot, but not often in a manner that produces results. Avoid any flexing and extending exercises for high repetitions. Instead, you want exercises focusing on isometric tension. Since this most closely resembles shooting when applying and holding a crush grip. The biggest mistake I see in shooters who want to develop their grip strength is relying on hand grip strengtheners as their sole means of improvement. While they can help to build the strength in your overall grip, we want to hold onto to something with a powerful grip for an extended period of time. My personal favorite are heavy farmers carry, but with a twist. Pick up something with a handle, then point your trigger finger straight down. Carry the item for distance, then switch hands or carry two at the same time. Over time, this will help you to clamp down on your grip versus milking your grip.

Get As Much Friction As Possible

While most subcompact pistols barely fit into the average size person’s palms you still need to obtain a solid firing grip. Start by identifying the five points of contact, then ensure you occupy as much surface area as possible. Using an in-line thumb grip gives you the best access to the pistol’s surface area. Your goal when shooting subcompact pistols is to create as much friction as possible through your grip. With the short frames many are tempted to use pinky extensions or extended magazines. Using these for your reload magazine is no problem. Part of the reason you are carrying a subcompact is the reduced profile for optimal concealment. Adding length to the frame produces more you need to conceal. Instead, curl your pinky finger underneath the base of the magazine. Take it one step further and press the tip of your pinky finger into the palm of your hand while applying your crush grip.

Take It Slow, Concentrate More

The last thing to do is slow down. These subcompact pistols are not as forgiving as their full size counter parts. The extra weight and size of larger pistols allow the average shooter to get away with less than ideal technique. Not the case with the subcompacts. You need to concentrate on slowing down in two major areas. The first has to do with obtaining the optimal firing grip. If you take a little bit more time in the beginning to ensure the best grip it will pay dividends when shooting subcompact pistols in rapid fire mode. Then slow down your shooting. Take more time to align the sights. Many subcompacts come with a poor sight system so sighting errors can be compounded. Slowing down your trigger management will also allow you to work with the suboptimal triggers usually found on the subcompacts.

Practice Drills For Peak Performance

When it comes down to performance evaluation I typically run two drills. The first drill is a Bill Drill where I fire six rounds total in rapid fire mode. I fire these from the 7-yard line as prescribed, but I do it versus a six inch target with six second par time. My goal is to be sub-par with 100% accuracy. To do this drill well you have to focuses on a solid, crush grip. Decent recoil and trigger management will net you a passing score. Then for accuracy, I take the subcompact pistol back to the 25-yard line and run a TRICON bullseye qualification. This is five rounds in ten seconds for score versus a bullseye target with 80% as passing. Both drills allow you as the shooter to gauge your skill level and focus on where you need the most practice.

I love shooting subcompact pistols and they offer many people who would not normally carry concealed the option due to their size. With a little practice shooting them well is easily achievable.

Dry Fire Effectiveness

Dry Fire Practice

Have you ever wondering the effectiveness of dry fire practice.

Like many people these days I have implemented a more dedicated dry fire program to augment my live fire training. In this process, I have discovered a few positives and a few negatives about dry fire effectiveness.

Does Dry Fire Really Work

First, let me tell you about my experiment. I dry fire a lot already, but to be honest I haven’t thought to evaluate whether it has a positive effect on my live fire performance. It became obvious I would need a means to validate my belief dry fire is helpful. I have talked about dry fire in the past and I know it is heavily recommended to many shooters of various skill. The real question is has anyone done anything to provide tangible results on this recommendation. How do we know it really does produce results.

What About Those With Skills Already

Dry Fire PracticeMy approach was pretty simple, but not easy. As I mentioned, I currently dry fire practice a lot. What is a lot, how do I define a lot. It averages about 100 minutes a week. Family and travel can impact my weekly quota, but in general its really close. One could argue that I already perform too significant an amount of dry fire to evaluate whether it has a good or bad effect. This could be true, but one other element to consider is sustainment. Does dry fire work at sustaining current skill level. Is is an effective replacement to live fire training for the maintenance required to sustain your skills. With an already establish routine I can say it did make it somewhat easier, but I still needed a method to measure and track my progress.

A Battery of Tests To Evaluate Dry Fire

There are a few commercially available dry fire tools you can purchase. Many of them claim to be the answer to your shooting problems, but at best they are only one piece of the puzzle. The question is how big a piece of the puzzle. This question will revolve around your perceived return on investment for dry fire effectiveness. For this experiment I purchased the Mantis X dry fire module. Then I needed a means to measure live fire performance. I could have picked a single shooting drill, but to do so would have been too narrow in scope. Both for this experiment and in real life. No single shooting drill is an adequate measurement of overall skill. Instead, I used a battery of drills to test and evaluate on a much broader scale. I shot them all cold and recorded the scores before I started. I took all of them, seven in total and averaged them for my overall score. Having so many measurements seemed good, but it also opened the door to a single poor performance having a negative effect on the overall score. But, isn’t that why I’m dry firing in the beginning.

Breaking Down My Experiment

In an effort not to jade my live fire results, I did not practice the selected tests during dry fire. Aside from it being very hard to do this, I did not want to show bias to these drills. I have been conducting this little experiment for a while now. Here are some initial observations. I say initial because I don’t think I’m ready to complete this experiment. I feel like more time is needed to gain any useful information. However, here is what I can tell you now. Yes, it does help. I started out establishing my baselines then put my professional development on the back burner.  I wanted any live fire training to be evaluated for this experiment. That was harder than expected for a lot of reasons. Performing demonstrations in classes is live fire practice, however I do it in a manner than is not 100% authentic. Meaning, I explain the drill as I’m shooting the drill or illustrate high points for students. Then there was the aspect of worrying I would let my skills degrade too much. Since I had no idea if this would work, did I want to risk loosing too much of my skill set. I feel and the results show I’m at the very minimum breaking even.

Dry Fire Observations

After the baselines, I took a hiatus on my professional development for six months. The only live fire I completed was for this experiment. I then performed dry fire only for the first three months. This gave me a chance to let the dry fire routine get established and what I hoped was enough time to allow my live fire skills to be more authentically evaluated. The last three months I went to the range to retest my baselines. My score for the first month was a 3% decrease from my baselines. Then the second and third month I saw 5% and 4% increases respectively. Not the huge numbers I was expecting, but it does lend credibility to my notion as a valuable tool for sustainment. I’m thinking I will do another three months of live fire retesting then take the final three months off and perform dry fire only. See if there is anything significant to report.

Overall, I’m happy with these results and while 5% may not be a huge return on my investment it is at least safeguarding my investment. I will look forward to seeing the results at the end of another six months.

Trident Concepts
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