We have discussed at length on this blog the reason why Gross Motor Skills (GMS) regardless of what tool is involved, are so important in a fight. Whether you are using empty hand, stick or knife, Gross motor movements work hand-in-hand with using the larger, more dense muscle groups to generate more powerful strikes, jabs, thrust, swings, etc.
Going hand in hand with this, is also the ideal that any “complex task” (fine motor skill manipulation) we may try to complete during a fight for our lives in which there is INTENSE HIGH STRESS (ie “Caveman Mode”) will be extremely difficult to complete, since the brain has dedicated the majority of blood and nerve signal to the major muscle groups to aid in the elimination of the threat.
Now when talking about having to use “fine motor skill” (FMS) with a stick or knife, one might be hard-pressed to come up with any credible example as far as actual MANIPULATION. I mean come on we are talking about two of the most basic, rudimentary tools in known human history! So mainly, when discussing these two tools, we are talking more about the TECHNIQUE we use with these tools more than we are talking about how we actually MANIPULATE the device during the fight.
But when you transpose this ideal to the firearm, you quickly find out that there are a MULTITUDE of fine motor skill required to keep the gun running during a fight. From having to depress small buttons and work even smaller latches. Some of these functions are required to keep the gun going during the fight, but not all of them.
The Goal of the CO in their firearm training therefore should be to IDENTIFY what FMS can be ELIMINATED ALTOGETHER (As much as realistically possible) and which ones can be REPLACED with GMS. When we give the brain fewer complex task during high stress, the faster our motor skills will function, and the faster we can manipulate the weapon as needed and get the weapon back into the fight.
In the process of this evaluation, the CO also needs to closely look at the ECONOMY of MOTION during these processes an manipulations (mainly reloading and charging the weapon) and see if they are being done as efficiently as possible. Eliminating any REPETITIVE and/or NEEDLESS motions will also help increase our speed during reloads and malfunctions. Remember: Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast.
I am going to cover 4 Primary Releases on the weapon the CO would have to manipulate during a fight. I am not going to get into Bolt Releases (AR’s and Semi-Auto Shotguns) or Action Releases on Pump Shotguns.
(NOTE: I only included weapons the “Average” CO would most likely possess. Weapons such as Belt-Fed MG’s, Full Auto PDW’s and SMG’s I have excluded.)
- Safety Catch (Pistol/Rifle/Shotgun)
Working the safety catch during a fight is in my estimation, one of the most misunderstood and “worried about” manipulations there is. The reason for this is, in my opinion, is mainly due to 3 things:
- Over-Zealous Range Safety Nazi’s
- Lack of training and Understanding that your trigger finger is the ULTIMATE SAFETY
- Lack of training to be “BARREL AWARE”
To me it is quite simple: When you think or know there is going to be a fight, take off the safety. When you feel it is safe, place it back on. DO NOT MESS WITH IT IN BETWEEN THOSE TIMES!
I always tell folks, when IN a FIGHT and you are NOT SHOOTING at the enemy, do 2 simple things:
- Take Finger OFF Trigger and OUT of trigger guard (Resting it along the frame)
- Avert Your Barrel in a safe direction if needed
When these simple directions are followed, we successfully navigate the issue of NOT having to do a FMS (ie work a lever) repetitively and needlessly while somebody is trying to kill us and our brain is in caveman mode!!
- Magazine Release (Pistol/Rifle/Shotgun)
The Magazine Release is one of those NECESSARY FMS manipulations we are going to have to LEARN how to work efficiently as possible since, obviously, it cannot be eliminated or replaced with a GMS. Simply put, if you cannot reload your weapon, you can’t continue to shoot.
Since most semi-auto pistols have relatively the same type of mag release design, that is, some type of button that is depressed, either on one side or both sides (ambi), the training can be fairly uniform in drilling how to navigate it in the most efficient manner. The easiest way I have found to be the following:
- While always maintaining a secure grip on the gun, bring the gun UP into your “work area” and using the thumb to depress allows you to get good pressure on the button and at the same time have adequate space for your trigger finger to still operate.
Rifles and Semi-Auto mag Fed Shotguns must be approached on a case by case basis. As I train with the AK platform, because of “Continuity of Design” I can also simultaneously train for the Saiga and VEPR Shotguns, as they use the same type of mag release, ie, a lever forward of the trigger guard.
In reality, reloading an AK is much of the same process as a semi-auto pistol. The only difference is due to its superior design, the operator can use NOTHING but Gross Motor Skills to manipulate it. While maintaining a firm grip on the weapon via pistol grip, all of the reloading is done with the other hand. The Mag Release lever can be operated with the thumb (pressed forward) while the mag can be grasped with the entire hand and removed. With Practice, this can be done in one motion. If in a pinch, the lever can also be depressed with the fresh mag if the spent mag does not need to be retained right then. As I said, Gross Motor Skills is the AK’s middle name.
- Slide Release Lever (Pistol)
Now here is a prime example where we can substitute a FMS with a GMS, and in doing so, improve our training to be more realistic and “street” proven. If you have been shooting long enough, you know the tendency that some people (and trainers) have to use COMPETITION Shooting methods when training in COMBAT (Self-Defense) Shooting. One of these methods is that during a reload with a pistol, in order to increase the speed of the reload, is to use the slide release lever rather than manually charging the gun overhand. In a recent article, Tom McHale, who writes for Ammo- Land Shooting Sports, expounded on this issue in detail. Please read that article HERE.
As Mr. McHale lays out, the reason for using an “Overhand” Charge to reload a pistol versus using the slide release lever go far beyond the “Fine vs. Gross Motor Skill” Debate. It goes more into the realm of designing your training to be as UTILITARIAN as possible so as to stack the odds in your favor, no matter the weapon or situation. This dovetails very nicely with the CO’s mantra of “One Mind, Any Weapon.”
- Charging Handle
No other firearm manipulation is more GROSS MOTOR SKILL than charging a semi-automatic weapon. In a pistol, you “rack” the slide (overhand or slingshot) in a AR or AK rifle, you Grab the lever, pull back hard and release. Simple. Now every operator has their own specific way they like to charge their weapons. When drilling with the AK, I favor the “under the gun thumb hook” only because it goes hand in hand with a mag change. Remember we always need to consider economy of motion in our manipulations; and always striving to eliminate any UN-NEEDED movement or task.
A Word about Modifications
Some folk favor modifying certain parts of the weapon to make these manipulations easier and “quicker”.
Examples of such mods are:
- Larger slide releases on Pistols
- Vertical Charging Handles (Galil style for an AK/Saiga/VEPR)
- Larger Magazine lever Releases for the AK
- Magazine “Guides” for AK’s
My own personal opinion on most of these mods for the most part, is that they are tailored for the COMPETITION crowd, where SPEED is emphasized for scoring purposes. As we discussed, we are training to stay alive, not to beat the next guy’s score or time.
If we tailor our training around using GROSS MOTOR SKILLS, we are adopting a versatile UTILITARIAN training mindset versus having to rely on OVERSIZED knobs or levers. Training, not Gadgets is gonna help keep you alive at the end of the day.
As far as Speed goes in Combat Shooting, as related to any manipulation of the firearm, as we said, always think Economy of Motion in your Manipulations and adjust accordingly. Think about it: Slow is Smooth (Smooth as in the opposite of ROUGH, or Jerky, unneeded movements) and thus, Smooth= Fast.
Stay Smooth, Stay Aware, Stay Armed and Stay Dangerous!