Most combat firearms training today lacks realism; Those “primal elements” that the student needs to experience when they are TRULY fighting for their lives. One of these primal elements that we can replicate with some degree of certainty is STRESS. In the heady days of firearms training (waaaay before I was a glint in my daddy’s eye) when Jeff Cooper was blazing trails with the “Big Bore” 1911 Combat Pistol and the Modern Technique, it was widely thought that organized handgun matches hosted by groups like the IPSC and the IDPA would give students the added realism of stress using COMPETITION & TIME. The only problem with that theory is that Competition and Combat Shooting are not the same animals, hell they are not even the same life forms!
The “Competition Training” Mentality
Those of you that have been reading this blog for some time, know without me going too deep into the massive gulf that exist between “Competition” styled Training and true “Combat” Training, the major division being “square range” versus “360 degree” training.
Like anything, behind any system lies the founding and/or “driving” mentality behind it. With competition styled training that mentality (due to tradition more than anything else) resist the notion that fighting is a continuum. There can never be any “dogma” or “system” that answers with complete certainty all of the riddles a person faces when fighting for their lives. If we are to “live to fight another day” we must understand that no stance, grip, caliber of pistol or specific sighting method is the “best”.
So, now that we understand the foundation, let us explore how we can add “STRESSORS” to a combat shooting routine that uses a 360 degree range.
When we are integrating ANYTHING into our training we must always ask ourselves Three Fundamental Questions:
1. Is it Safe?
It goes without saying, if something is not safe, it needs to be thrown out, no matter the degree of realism it may add.
2. Is it Practical to the Student?
Civilians do not need to include stressors or material that a LE SWAT or Tier 1 Spec-Ops Unit would have, this is why some trainers are labeled as “Mall Ninja’s” or “Armchair Rambo’s”; they have no practicality in their methods and are considered a joke in the training industry. These types of trainers (as we will discuss later) can be a terrible liability to the student’s reputation if ever the time arises to question it.
3. Is it “Street-Proven” (Realistic)?
Is this something that has a precedent in the real world? Is this something that has happened in the real world and not just in a controlled environment like a square range?
Once we have answered these three questions in the affirmative, we can start compiling a list of possible stressors. (Note: When compiling your list, always identify what Skill (or Skills) the stressor is enforcing.)
You can take any practical firearms drill and make it competitive, but what I like to do is center in on a particular skill and create a competition around it. For example, to work on Speed and Accuracy you can do the “Speed Dot” Drill. Using a pre-made target or a homemade one, where there are 10 numbered “dots”, one person calls out a number while the shooter engages it. You can then mix it up saying “all evens” or “all odds” or go a step further and start doing “cognitive drills” where as fast as possible you have to do a math problem, for instance, you could call out a sum and the shooter would have to shoot the two corresponding numbers to make that sum as quickly as possible. (For 5 it would be the 2 and the 3). LE Targets makes some paper and cardboard targets that have different colors and shapes to add further challenge and fun.
What can I say about using Time to induce stress that most seasoned shooters don’t already know!? I would add this caveat: Keep it Real! Don’t be that guy that walks around with a shot timer clipped to his belt measuring EVERYTHING he does; reloads, malfunctions, presentation, etc. That is what I call going back to “fairy tale” land, and letting that “Competition” mentality take over. We have to always separate the two worlds; shooting nice little neat groups in bull’s-eyes, while keeping your reloads down to 3 seconds IS NEVER the same as FIGHTING for your life.
This is where the rubber starts meeting the road.
Not really a big deal until it get’s in your eyes or on your hands and effects your grip on your weapon. No way to really avoid this is except to help your body make less of it under pressure, and the only way to HELP your body do that is to get in decent shape (I will be repeating that ALOT) BUT, even after that, still, a healthy, fit person sweats on hot days or when under stress; it is the body’s way of regulating temperature & cooling itself, no way around it. So in essence, the only smart way to deal with this is either:
A. Wear menacing looking black Gloves (or the white bedazzled glove like Michael Jackson, your choice) and a American Flag bandanna around your head 24/7 like Willie Nelson (only an option for .0003% of my readers I am guessing?)
B. Drill with damp hands and a sweaty forehead and see how you can fight thru it, after all, isn’t it better to discover something in a controlled environment versus the unforgiving real world? The solutions will be different for every one, some will choose equipment mods like grip tape on their guns, others may just carry a handkerchief, find what works for you and go with it, if it keeps you alive, go for it.
OK, now we are getting down “Where people live” as an old preacher friend of mine used to say! I want to approach this from two different angles, one is for the guy who knows he is out of shape. Listen bro, just be honest with yourself; if you can’t touch your toes without exhaling loudly because your diaphragm is pressing against that inflated stomach, you are toast in a fight, armed or not. Let me dispense with the myth propagated by the “Over 40 beergut crowd”; just because you pack a sidearm does not give you a license to be the poster boy for Lipitor! Do yourself (and the ones you love) a favor: Drop the Weight and get in shape! You will feel better and ultimately be the best version of yourself.
The second is for the guy who is in shape but does not add these stressors to his training. As we stated before, isn’t it smarter to experiment with something in a controlled environment versus waiting for the real world to school you? I always like to throw a couple of guys into a combative pit before a shooting drill just to prove this point, or better yet, make the combative pit the ACTUAL drill by throwing a blue gun in there and watch them claw thru each other to get to it! Boy, do they get out of breath quicker than they thought! This is also where force on force can be VERY telling. I think people find out real quick that other people do not stand still when you are trying to cause them harm and when you get tired, you get sloppy and make mistakes!
I have only one thing to say about dealing with rapid heartbeat from what I have seen in the field. I think people find out real quick what I mean by fighting is a “Continuum” when there heart is pumping 90 to nothing from rolling around doing combatives or being involved in a ECQ encounter and then having to slow waaaay down to make that precise head shot to end the fight. We all just have to find our way to breathe, release the tension in the muscles and make the shot.
One of my all time favorite stressors, because it flies in the face of square range dogma in such a profound way. You would be surprised how few people have really ever truly heard their weapon fired “loud” without hearing protection or how few people do not train (at least in part) without hearing protection. The reason is simple, we have been taught, SCARED might even be the word, since we were little kids about the dangers of hearing loss when shooting firearms. The problem with this “safety dogma” as I see it as a trainer is that it robs the student of the real world “stressor” of a loud gun and the effect that it has on the human body during a gunfight. Now let me be clear so I don’t get a bunch of hate mail from the NRA about promoting “unsafe training practices.”
I am not endorsing training WITHOUT hearing protection, but only doing a couple of drills (maybe 5 rounds) without it, so the students can KNOW first, how loud the gun is and secondly, how much it affects his senses during the fight. I am also a big fan of randomly firing a SAFE gun (using a bullet trap or blanks) during drills just to knock people off balance. Fights are noisy and loud, not muffled!
Another BIG reason I do this is something I learned from my security days; hearing gunfire (without hearing protection) randomly but on a steady basis subconsciously in grains the unique SOUND of a firearm (pistol and rifle) into your brain. This can come in handy in a variety of situations for the civilian. Do you know what an AR or AK sounds like? a 9mm Glock? How many times have you heard news stories of survivors involved in an active shooter situation and the first thing they said was “It sounded like a car backfiring or firecrackers. so at first we did not pay it much mind…”
Remember: Awareness is your biggest weapon!
Lastly, and this is useful particularly in team drills, is how loud, out of control, wounded or dying screaming people can affect your communications and thought process. This is where hand signals can come in handy.
This is a very overlooked stressor and one that really lends itself to MAKING yourself grow and expand your skill sets. Example 1: You train on uneven, rocky, hard ground versus nice soft dirt which makes you do more ground combatives and shooting from the ground or on your back drills, just because of the higher probability things will go to the ground when your footing is uneven. Example 2: You train around vehicles, which makes you realize the importance of getting behind the engine block for real COVER and not just CONCEALMENT behind the door frame. It also shows you the often overlooked field of fire UNDERNEATH the vehicle where cover is better than over the top of the vehicle, where you are exposed.
The other side to Environment is WEATHER.
Here we have to really apply that Practical aspect. If I live in Minnesota, where it snows a lot and the temperature averages around 10 degrees, I probably need to train in cold weather with cold weather apparel. If I live in the deep South, where the Temp in the summer can peak 100 degrees, well I need to tailor my fitness, apparel and training around that. Be smart. Remember as an armed civilian, you are ultimately a partisan..that means you use your environment, ie your home ground (terrain and regional weather) to your advantage!
No-Shoots, like Competition and Time, are stressors carried over from the Competition training mentality, but just like these, when blended correctly into a combat shooting routine, No-Shoot’s can be an invaluable stressor. The skill (and mindset) that No-Shoots bring to the table is one of the most powerful allies the armed civilian is expected to practice: DISCRETIONARY SHOOOTING.
In the overly litigious society that we currently live in, as civilians that live in a Constitutional Carry State (like Texas) we must understand that in the event we have to use deadly force to defend ourselves, more often than not, we will have to go to court to defend not only our actions, but our firearms training as well. That being said, I cannot urge my readers enough to be very cautious in the TYPE of firearms training they attend. Like most of you, I have never been the type of person to really care what people think of me, but as history has taught us, if the DA (prosecution) can paint a picture of a person who trains to be a “Uber-Rambo, Survivalist Ninja” who shoots first and ask questions later versus a “Responsible, level-headed Armed Citizen” who does not go around looking for a fight, you will most likely lose your case. Remember this: Every round that you fire in an altercation will have at least one Lawyer attached to it, looking to take everything you own, including your reputation and most importantly, your freedom.
This all being said, I am not the type of person who has taken a complete workshop on what to do AFTER THE FIGHT is over. Lawsuits, litigation and legal entanglements AFTER the FIGHT is a Lawyer’s job; and the only advice I can give you is get yourself a GOOD Lawyer NOW on retainer and talk to him frequently about self-defense and the laws in your state pertaining to it. You would also be smart in purchasing an up to date Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Manual for reference. KNOW THE LAW! Especially Self-Defense Law in your State. Never depend on somebody else (especially somebody with a badge) to tell you what your RIGHTS are as a citizen.
Lastly, history has taught us, quite succinctly, through multiple Civilian Self-Defense court cases over the years that the Discretionary Mindset HAS to be a FUNDAMENTAL TRAINING PHILOSOPHY for the civilian. When the time comes for the DA to put a microscope on you, it makes you look reasonable, sensible and not like a “gun freak”. If your current training regimen does not reflect this, consider changing ASAP. Always remember this: by exercising the “Big 3” (Avoidance, Deterrence, De-Escalation) the armed civilian can, by virtue of self-restraint and a little common sense, solve a huge, pain in the ass problem before it begins.
As far as integrating this into your every day drills, you would not be re-missed in practicing Force-on-Force role playing to rehearse using the “Big 3” on the street. I have found that in the process, it helps sharpen both Combatives and Less-than-Lethal skill sets (like the use of OC). (Sidenote: Do not forget in these drills one your biggest weapons is your VOICE. Use it to command authority and draw attention!
You will also find as you start integrating “No-Shoot” targets randomly into ALL of your drills, that your need for Precision will go up. As time progresses, you will find yourself (out of necessity) having to find that right combination of SPEED & ACCURACY to complete the drill. This is not by accident, it is the Combative Continuum at work.
Stay Dangerous and Train Hard!