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
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
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.