November 7, 2018
Skill Set: Thousands
It takes thousands of repetitions to learn a complicated task. All the experts agree that thousands of repetitions are necessary to solidly establish the neural pathways between mind and body to perform complicated tasks as efficiently as possible – almost as without any effort: thousands of correct, proper repetitions. During my personal training/practice and teaching I’m constantly reminded of this fact. The only way to master the art of fighting is practice. Slow practice is best.
When most shooters go to the range all they do is shoot, often rapidly. Shooting might be a part of the fight – but until it’s time to shoot it’s a small part. Prior to pressing the trigger come skills like moving, communicating and using cover, and drawing your weapon. Taken one at a time none of these skills are difficult. Doing them all at the same time – moving to cover while issuing verbal commands, drawing the pistol and still assessing and making decisions is difficult. With practice, plenty of repetition, you can do all this and more. Dry practice, as always, is best.
The only way to perform well is to start with basic learning. You develop these skills one at a time, never pushing for speed. As soon as you start trying to go fast the learning pretty much comes to a screeching halt. You’re going too fast to learn. You’re also making mistakes, and plenty of them. However, you’re going too fast to identify what you’re doing wrong. A big part of fighting efficiently is about not making mistakes. Once the individual skills are solid you start chunking them together, performing several actions at the same time.
When I’m practicing there is never speed involved. I’m going slow, concentrating on technique, without worrying about how fast it happens. Learning is a constant process, and I’m still learning. Knowing that every repetition is a learning opportunity means slowing down so it will be correct – “money” in the bank – plus there’s time to discover where improvements can be made – time saved. I’ll take a hundred rounds to the range and it takes about three hours to shoot them. I’m concentrating on the fundamentals – again: moving, communicating and using cover while drawing – and then I’ll press off one or two hits. Always “hits.” (Yes, I miss a few but I immediately forget about them on focus on the next drill.)
Yes, in a fight time is a precious commodity. But training and practice is not “fighting.” You’re trying to learn how to fight. You study and research to discover how time and distance are closely related. You only use a timer to find out how long it takes to perform a certain task, which gives you data to know what options are the best according to time/distance. And you practice a bunch.
The goal of fighting is to defeat the threat. The “real” enemy, the one who keeps you from doing this, is you. Without having confidence in your abilities – which only comes with thousands of correct repetitions – you will go too fast. Winning is never about fast. It is about making the right decisions in a timely fashion and being able to efficiently perform the tasks required. As Texas Ranger Captain John Hughes told Bill Jordan, “If you get into a gunfight don’t let yourself feel rushed. Take your time, fast.” The only thing you can control in a fight is you.
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of The Book of Two Guns, AR-15 Skills and Drills, featured on GunTalk’s DVD, “Fighting With The 1911 and has regular columns in Gun Digest and American Handgunner.