Tuesday, February 21, 2017

I'm a pretty good shot... and hand, finger, and grip strength have a lot to do with it.

While most of the firearms we have are "stock", we still have quite a few with modifications... including various "trigger jobs" on rifles, shotguns, and handguns. A friend recently told me he was ordering a "Ghost Trigger" for his Glock because the gun's stock trigger pull was messing up his "groups". Now... I have a couple of Ghost products and they do a pretty good job on different guns, but a "trigger job" is what a lot of folks turn to rather than work on fixing themselves first. A "trigger job" won't fix a poor application of the shooting fundamentals or... make up for a lack of hand, finger, and grip strength.

Ruger SR9... my usual EDC... demonstration for students... draw and fire...
controlled pairs... flash-sight picture... at five yards...
.22LR single shot in bullseye was demo from ten-yards with Ruger Mark II Government Target Model...

Don't get me wrong, there are mechanical modifications and accessories that can truly improve a shooter's performance... but only if the fundamentals and decent hand and grip strength are already in place. I've shot some S&W M&Ps and Glocks that were amazing guns after folks like Bowie Tactical Concepts and Boresight Solutions had worked their magic, but for the most part beyond sights... our Every Day Carry guns around here are bone stock... and I shoot them pretty well because of two reasons... in my humble opinion... I have a pretty good grasp and application of the fundamentals... AND... I have developed and maintain pretty good grip and trigger-finger strength.

Ruger SR9... demonstration for students... trigger-control focus... ten-shots... at five-yards...

Most folks these days don't do a lot of manual labor, especially manual labor that works fine motor skills to where they build up strength in their hands and fingers, especially with regard to their grip. There are even some regular "gym rats" I know that haven't been purposeful about building hand and grip strength on the same level as their biceps and triceps. Now I've had students that have limitations due to injuries, arthritis, and other problems, but that's not the majority of folks. Also, I'm not picture of overall fitness... I do exercise... but I'm also a fat guy who could stand to lose a few or eighty pounds... but I have still developed very good hand, finger, and grip strength.

So, let's identify some of the advantages to great hand, finger, and grip strength:
  • Easier manipulation of the firearm's action and controls.
  • More consistent trigger press and management regardless of trigger weight.
  • Stronger grip for two-handed and one-handed shooting.
  • Better recoil control for controlled pairs or follow-up shots.
  • Better retention of the firearm if someone tries to take it from you.
  • Less fatigue when doing a lot of shooting.
Glock 17 Gen4... three shots draw and fire... then ten shots...
trigger-control focus... all at three yards...

So the next question is... how do we improve our hand, finger, and grip strength? Most people I know, even those who work-out at a gym, are not necessarily purposeful about building hand and grip strength. Regular shooting and dry-firing is great for developing your fine motor skills as they relate to shooting, but it doesn't necessarily build the strength in the hand, grip, or trigger finger any more than a weight-lifter doing curls with a five-pound dumbbell every day. 

S&W M&P9... eleven shots... seven yards...

You need to be purposeful about building hand, finger, and grip strength and fortunately... you can do a lot by incorporating it into your everyday activities. I do a lot of my grip exercises while driving to work. So if you want to build hand, finger, and grip strength... here are some exercises to try:

  • Grip Exercisers - Equipment: grip exerciser or ball... I still use the GripMaster daily.
  • Arm-Hang and Towel-Arm Hang - Equipment: chin-up/pull-up bar, towels.
  • Wrist Curls and Hammer Curls - Equipment: dumbbells, kettlebells.
  • Pinch Curls - Equipment: Weight plates, heavy books,
  • Farmer's Walk - Equipment: Dumbbells, buckets with water/weight in them.
  • Hand Stretch - Equipment: Stretching bands or heavy/larger rubberbands
Here are some links that explain the some of the above exercises and other exercises you can do at the gym or at home:
I'm not saying a trigger-job or stippling your grips on your gun won't help, but I think you'll find that as you develop your strength... you'll see your shooting improve... and that's why I believe... I'm a pretty good shot... and hand, finger, and grip strength have a lot to do with it.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Pepper-Spray should be part of your Every Day Carry...

After recently spending some time answering questions and discussing pepper-spray with several different folks, I decided to post some of my thoughts about carrying pepper-spray for defensive use. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a SABRE Red certified instructor, often recommend their products, and the gals and I carry their products daily.

So, in no particular order, here are some thoughts:

Pepper-spray should be part of your Every Day Carry for self-defense: Pepper-spray is inexpensive, easy to use with training and practice, is legal to carry on all 50 states (but check your state's laws), and is typically non-lethal. Pepper-spray will usually not completely disable an attacker or aggressor, but it will often give you the chance to at least slow down the threat, create distance between you and the threat, and hopefully escape the situation and contact law enforcement... yes... anytime you have to use your pepper-spray against a threat... call the police!

Pepper-spray can be legally carried many places that a gun, and even some knives, can't be carried: My wife and I both teach in public schools... my daughter is an ER nurse at an area hospital... we can't legally carry a firearm at work... and until the law changes here in Ohio on March 21st of this year... we can't even keep a gun in our vehicle on school premises. We can carry pepper-spray. Many personnel policy manuals don't forbid carrying pepper-spray, but most forbid guns and knifes of defensive length or size. Also, know your state's laws regarding defensive sprays. I am not an attorney, but one of the best summaries I've found for the legalities of purchasing and possessing pepper-spray in different states is on Ebay.

Pepper-spray should be carried in your hand, ready to use: You need to carry your pepper-spray in your hand and be ready to use it in various situation and contexts... especially in transitional or vulnerable spaces... jogging on a trail, carry it in your hand or on your body... leaving the store, headed for your vehicle in the parking lot, carry it in your hand. If your pepper-spray is buried in your purse, or in your pocket tangled up with your keys... you likely won't be able to deploy it quickly enough when you need it. I carry my pepper-spray and keys in my left-hand (weak-side) and practice using it with my left-hand because I wear my gun on my right side, either AIWB or IWB.

Pepper-spray allows you to engage a threat at a short distance, but beyond arm's length: Unlike empty-hand techniques, stun guns, impact weapons, and many other defensive tools... pepper-spray can be used to defend against an attacker or aggressor beyond your arm's length. Different pepper-sprays have varying distances of effective use and that is why it is important for you to practice with whatever pepper-spray you carry. I have found the pepper-gel products by SABRE Red to have an effective spray distance of twelve to fifteen feet. The other advantage to the pepper-gel is that there is less chance of it blowing back in your face due to wind, but you also have to be more purposeful in aiming the pepper-gel products. The gals and I also like and carry the SABRE Red Spitfire which is natural to carry and aim, has replaceable cartridges, and has a "stream" of spray that extends the reach of the spray out further than typical cone/aerosol pattern sprays.

Pepper-spray is typically non-lethal, as are many of the physical threats you will face: In most states, defensive size/designed knives and firearms are considered deadly force. Again, in most states, you can only legally use deadly force to defend against an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm.  In many defensive situations your firearm is of no use... yes, it's true. There is a lot that an aggressor or attacker can do to an average adult in many contexts and situations before you are ever near the threshold of defending yourself with deadly force.  The attacker can push you, chest-bump you, spit in your face, finger-thump you in the chest... and in many of theose situations and contexts... if you pull out the gun and shoot... you're going to jail. Pepper-spray gives you another tool in your personal defense force continuum. Beyond humans, pepper-spray is also very effective against animals... like an aggressive or attacking dog and even an aggressive raccoon... from personal experience.

Pepper-spray is a self-defense tool for those who may not be ready or want to carry a firearm: Yes, I know in the gun-folks circles and those who consider themselves "in the gun industry"... that a firearm is considered a great defensive tool, if not THE defensive tool. Truth be told, there are a lot of folks out there that would like to defend themselves that just aren't ready to carry a firearm daily for a variety of reasons. Pepper-spray gives them another defensive tool... a tool... as previously mentioned... that may have more potential for use than a firearm.

Pepper-spray is not tear gas and not all pepper-sprays are created equal: First, since the term "pepper-spray" seems to be generically applied to all defensive sprays, you should know the difference between common defensive spray products. OC sprays use capsaicin and/or related compounds called capsaicinoids. They cause significant irritation (a pain response) and severe inflammation (a physical response) of the oral, nasal, conjunctival and tracheobronchial mucous membranes . OC sprays are usually more effective for defensive use because an attacker can fight through the pain of the irritation caused other sprays, but the severe inflammation aspect caused by OC sprays can't be controlled by the attacker... it's the body's natural response to the OC spray.

The other common defensive sprays... often referred to as "tear gas"... contain either CS which uses 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile or CN... often known as "Mace"... which uses phenacyl chloride. Both CS and CN sprays are irritants and the effect on the person sprayed subsides more quickly than the effects of OC sprays. The "heat" or "hotness" of OC pepper-spray is measured in Scolville Heat Units (SHU) and varies from product to product. The bottom line is you want a good quality OC pepper-spray and I typically recommend products with at least a million SHU rating from SABRE Red and Fox Labs.

Pepper-spray use, to be effective, requires training and practice: Just like every tool used for self-defense, including firearms, to effectively use pepper-spray you should get some training and practice regularly. SABRE Red offers training and there are a lot of terrific instructors out there like Greg Ellifritz of Active Response Training, Chuck Haggard of Agile Training & Consulting, and myself with G4 Personal Safety in Ohio who offer it too.

You should also practice. Purchase inert pepper-spray units to practice... and when you replace your pepper-spray, use your expired pepper-spray and practice.

Pepper-spray is designed for results on people, wasp spray is not: Folks, this wasp spray nonsense has to stop! Will wasp spray possibly sting or burn in someone's eyes... maybe... but good a OC pepper-spray uses a hot pepper extract that will severely affect the the eyes and mucous membranes causing significant inflammation and irritation. If you want to see a demonstration of wasp spray, check this video out by SABRE Red.

Pepper-spray will not cause you legal problems if you carry a gun: What will cause you trouble is YOU not knowing the legal principles and laws as they relate to the use of force for self-defense. I am not an attorney, but Andrew Branca is and you should take one of his excellent seminars. Aside from that,  the bottom line is you can only use deadly force to defend against the threat of deadly force or serious bodily harm. If an attorney or prosecutor wants to know why you used your gun instead of pepper-spray for self-defense... then you better be able to explain that you were threatened with deadly force or serious bodily harm. If you were threatened with a little bodily harm and a bruised ego, YOU CAN'T USE YOUR GUN! You could use your pepper-spray. Now, every situation is different, so I have no interest in going down the rabbit holes of every possible context of when, if, maybe, hypothetically... just carry pepper-spray!

A lot of thoughts to think over... and there are many more to consider... but for now... don't you think... Pepper-Spray should be part of your Every Day Carry...

Friday, January 20, 2017

32,800 rounds through a Ruger SR9...

It's been almost ten years since Ruger introduced the SR9 and SR9c pistols... and more than eight years since our family adopted the SR9 and SR9c as our primary pistols for home and self-defense.  We own... well, let's say more than six and less than twelve of the pistols covering what I'll call the "three generations" of Ruger SR9's and around here... if we're not wearing one, there's one pretty close by.... like within arm's length.

It may be hard for some to understand why we chose the Ruger SR9 and SR9c pistols... but the key word there is "we"... the gals and I. Some of the many factors included our previous experiences with Ruger products.  Ruger may not always build the prettiest firearm... although many look pretty good... but they are usually built like a brick outhouse and just like a brick outhouse, they function pretty reliably.

Other factors at the time included the grip which worked for all three of us... and while I prefer no external safety, my main gal did.  I'll also admit my bias for all things Ruger. They're a debt-free, all-American made company that builds a solid product at a good price.  Price was one of those considerations because at the time... we needed multiple pistols... looking at options like the Glock Gen3's and the Smith & Wesson M&P9's... the Ruger pistols were the best solution/compromise that worked for everyone in the family.

Now, all that being said... if we're going to trust our lives to a particular firearm... we needed to put it to the test. Typically as a personal rule of thumb, we don't trust a gun for personal defense until I've had at least 500 rounds through it with 300 rounds straight without a single malfunction due to the firearm and 100 of those five hundred rounds being the selected self-defense ammo for that firearm... fired without malfunction - period. I see too many people buy a pistol, shoot a few rounds of FMJs... slap in some self-defense ammo... and start carrying the gun... not us.

So... back to the title of this post. A previous post about our primary "practice" gun passing 18,500 rounds indicated the success we were having with these pistols. That particular gun has now passed 32,800 rounds... and in actuality, probably over 33,000 rounds because there are some occasions when a little bit of shooting here or there doesn't get logged. It still functions reliably with quality ammo... mostly Winchester white box, Federal, American Eagle, and reloads with 115gr. FMJs and either Federal HSTs or Winchester PDXs for self-defense purposes.

Yes, the gun has had some double feeds, stove-pipes, and other ammunition or human-error malfunctions over time, but nothing we could attribute to the firearm directly. As a percentage of total rounds fired... it's less than 0.3 percent overall. While it can be "limp-wristed" into a malfunction, it is actually pretty reliable when I've tried to purposely limp-wrist-fire the pistols. So as far as reliability goes... all told, we have well over 50,000 rounds through multiple Ruger SR9 and SR9c pistols over the years and the lowest round-count pistol has 1,820 rounds through it. If you want my opinion... you can rely on these pistols.

Now as a firearms instructor for many years... people usually ask, "What should I get for concealed carry or self-defense?" While my motto is "I educate, You decide."... if they press... my standard answer is, "Get a Glock or a S&W M&P in 9mm... you can't go wrong." Wait, you're carrying a Ruger SR-series every day... yes I am... and I'm OK with that... not that it's perfect... I don't like manual safeties... I carry it safety-off, yet my thumb indexes on the safety every time I draw to make sure it's off... my gal carries safety-on... her choice.

So everyone has to make their own decisions... and the ol' Ruger SR9 is finally going to get a rebuild... original springs are going in the trash... YES, original springs... and we can't see any visible signs of cracks or potential problems with the polymer frame, action, barrel, slide, etc. So for now... we'll keep the Ruger pistols as our standard family defensive pistol... and we're OK with that... after... 32,800 rounds through a Ruger SR9...

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why do you yell at your targets?

The gals and I are fortunate to have our own shooting range out back... it allows us to shoot regularly... pretty much whenever we want. Sometimes friends, students, and others will join us for some shooting fun, practice, and training. Not too long ago, I had a friend over do some shooting and he asked me, "Why do you yell at your targets?"

Thinking outside the box and thinking practically more than tactically, the gals and I try to develop our self-defense skillsets, mindsets, and tools around reality, not some Hollywood fantasy or tactical-fanboy ego strokin'. I see shooters practicing the scan-and-assess head swivels on the range and I see a lot of shooters practice the "step off the X" move when drawing and shooting... but I don't see many, if any, practicing their verbal commands, verbal judo, and communication skills while shooting.

We're big fans of visualization and a great source of material to think through and pre-visualize can be found in the videos over at Active Self Protection's YouTube Channel. Watch some of the videos... consider John's commentary... and think "what would I do" in that situation.  Everything from mindset, to awareness, to marksmanship, to empty-hand, to firearm handling, drawing, and manipulation and many more come into play.

So why not add some practical practice of your verbal commands and verbal judo into your practice work? In addition to what you're going to do... what are you going to say? You stumble onto an intruder in your living room in the middle of the night... what are you going to say? A road-rage driver departs his vehicle and aggressively starts towards you with a thirty-inch steel crowbar in his hand... what you you going to say? Yes, there are situations and contexts where there is little time for verbalization, but if your situational awareness is active... you may be able to counter a problem with some verbal commands, judo, or de-escalation.

When I've taught students simple self-defense scenarios in situations ranging from shooting courses to the NRA's Refuse To Be A Victim program... so many have difficulty deciding what to say when confronted by an adversary. "What are you doing in my house!" Do you really want an answer or have a conversation with this person? A gal has noticed the same guy consistently following her throughout a store, then into the parking lot, down the rows of cars... is "Excuse me, can I help you?" or "Why are you following me?" the best verbal communication? Again, do you want a conversation or do you want them to decide to go a different direction. "STAY BACK, QUIT FOLLOWING ME" with some solid, leave-no-doubt body language might be more effective.

The next time you're on the range, drawing from concealment, or just practicing shooting for self-defense purposes... try visualizing a scenario or context and think about your verbal response. Then practice it... "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! WE'VE CALLED THE POLICE!"... "DROP THE WEAPON, GET BACK!" If you think you'll know what to say or have time to think it through in the moment, you won't. Another benefit to yelling your commands in some situations is that their is a better chance they will be heard by your attacker and witnesses... and the yelling will force you to breath... something many people forget in tense moments or situations.

If you want to develop your verbal skills, there are a lot of good resources out there. One book I've read twice over the last year is "Conflict Communication" by Rory Miller. Another good source are articles written by our friend, Greg Ellifritz of Active Response Training including "Insults and Challenges- 5 Tips for Effective Verbalization During a Violent Encounter" and "When the Criminal Doesn’t Obey your Commands".

Be prepared... have some verbal commands and judo ready-to-go in your EDC... and in addition to stepping off the "X", scanning and assessing, moving to cover, or whatever else you've chosen to do to prepare for a defensive encounter... try visualizing AND verbalizing while practicing your empty-hand and shooting skills. Maybe... the next time you're practicing at the range... someone will ask you... Why do you yell at your targets?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Fobus Holsters, Blackhawk SERPA, and Car-Jacks...

A while back I had a friend call me for some assistance with a flat tire on his wife's car. He had tried to use the jack he found under the little "rubber donut" of a spare tire and the jack wasn't working right, started to bend, and he thought the car was going to fall right off of it. I grabbed a 3-ton floor jack from out in the barn, some deep-six-point-sockets, a breaker-bar, some wheel-chocks, and headed over to help him.

You see, they carried this jack around in this car every day since the vehicle was new. They never even looked at the jack, read the directions, or even tried it out until they needed it. Fortunately, the car was at home and not along the side of the road or near busy traffic or in an unsafe neighborhood. Like most folks... including most gun folks... he just assumed that it would work when he needed it and he'd figure out how to use it.  

He didn't realize it was probably the cheapest solution the company could provide, or that the little base-plate on the jack would likely sink right into the grass or dirt if he had actually tried it along the side of a road or along the berm or median. He had just never used it to lift the car and change the tire... and put it through the rigors of likely contexts that the jack would be used in... he never "tested" it.

"Test all things; hold fast what is good."
1 Thessalonians 5:21

Folks, this is the exact same situation for many folks who decide to carry a firearm for self-defense. They've never really used their holster beyond maybe daily carrying, or to draw and fire at the range on occasion... let alone drawing under the stress of a shot-timer... or maybe they've never even drawn and fired from their holster since a lot of shooting ranges don't allow it.  

Most of these folks... like many of those "in the industry"... have never faced an actual threat out in every day life where they had to roll on the ground and get dirt or gravel jammed-up in their holster mechanism... or had a thug grab for their gun and tear their holster right from its rivets. They walk into the local gun store, sporting goods store, or Wally World and see Fobus and Blackhawk SERPA holsters for just about any and every handgun made... and they're not too badly priced either.

After recently shooting the GSSF Indoor league match down in Cincinnati at a very popular, state-of-the-art shooting facility... I took a mental note as I looked around and noticed that every single employee... you know, the experts, were wearing sharp looking red polos with the company's logo, tan or khaki tactical pants, and all but one employee was openly carrying a handgun in a Blackhawk SERPA holster.  They MUST be great holsters, right?

I've also noticed that many of our local law enforcement officers carry in Fobus and SERPA holsters while off-duty. If all that wealth of experience dealing with bad guys daily has resulted in selecting a Fobus or SERPA holster for off-duty carry, how could any average person go wrong with a similar choice? Besides, they've never heard of Henry Holsters, Comp-Tac, Raven Concealment, or many of the other quality Kydex makers out there.

Why should they listen to some "in the industry" writer, trainer, or talking-head they have probably never heard of or just "liked" their FaceBoook page... when they've got someone with the appearance of great authority, knowledge, or experience close to home providing them advice.

This is why these "Deplorables" of the gun world give more credence to an NRA Certified instructor, military veteran, or a local police officer when it comes to firearms than some RangeMaster guy named Tom Givens they never heard of before. Unfortunately, many of the best instructors, sources of information, and authorities in this field are either "preaching to the choir" or they... or their followers/commentors... turn them off the instant they dare ask a questions or communicate something that is not the current tacticool standard or flavor. 

With extensive anecdotal proof on social media... and my own experiences and observations... I believe there is a silent majority out there of gun folks who are probably considered "Deplorables" by many of those "in the industry".  These are the over-weight, Taurus Judge in a Fobus paddle holster, under a shoot-me-first-vest... that I see in southwest Ohio... and all over the country. These are the .38 snubby, that's-what-the-guy-at-the-gun-store-recommended, in-my-purse mom's I run into rather frequently.

Many of these folks, if the dare wander into the social media venues or around gun-counter-commandos... are immediately eaten like a pack of coyote-minions on a wounded deer for daring ask a question about... or even mention... their holster or firearm choice that's not the flavor of the day. There is no way for them to discern or verify the information from a Tom Givens, Greg Ellifritz, Rob Pincus, or even an industry-niche market sensation like Ballistic Radio's John Johnston in comparison to what their local police officer friend with 20 years of experience or the guy with two tours in "the sandbox" just told them.

So where am I going with this? I didn't write a blog post during 2016, but I've decided to get back to blogging in 2017 because I enjoy it and at least in my local area and my local region... there are a lot of folks that I can help.  I can meet them where they're at... provide good training at a reasonable cost... and promote firearm safety and self-defense...refer the to other quality training and learning sources.  My motto and goal has always been... and still is... "I educate, you decide!"

Also, last year I really felt like anything I had to say or blog about had already been said by folks more qualified than myself. The thing I have found is that most of those highly qualified folks that I respect... don't reach... or are completely unheard of by the majority of every-day American gun owners and carriers. 

I'm here to meet folks where they're at... with my ellipses.. focusing on my geographical region... educating and assisting folks... about Fobus, SERPA's, and Car-Jacks... the Deplorables.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

We live with guns...

Our dogs are part of our family. I've always said that we don't own them, we live with them. They live in our home and our lives fully.  Recently, our friend Melody Lauer made a comment on Facebook about living with guns. Our family is the same with guns, they are an integral part of our everyday lives for self-defense, fun, sport, hobbies, reading, learning... just about whatever.

The one gun safe is in our kitchen right next to the refrigerator. We tend to be in and out of both the refrigerator and gun safe twenty-four-seven. Heading out to the barn, grab a bottle of cold water and an AR in case a coyote decides to get within range. Heading out to the shooting range out back, grab a shotgun, an extra couple of mags... and hmmm... haven't shot the gal's Smith & Wesson 9mm Shield in a while... let's grab that. Maybe that Glock 19 would go better with the gal's outfit today. Heading to 4H Shooting Sports, grab a few guns to take along like that Ruger MKII Government Target model and that Ruger 22/45 Target model.

Our daughter grew up living with guns and she was taught safety and shooting fundamentals early on and the idea of living with guns keeps us always in the mode of safety, mindset, and where our guns are at any given time... and they're not always in the safe... we carry around home too. We're actively involved as firearms instructors and in shooting sports, hunting, and just about anything that involves shooting... it's just our "thing". Truth be told, there's usually not many places we are in our lives.. home, vehicle, barn, or out and about... that there isn't a gun handy.

Now I know a lot of people own guns. They have that shotgun they get out for hunting every fall or the gun that "gramps" passed down to the family or that pistol bought for home protection that hasn't been fired in three... err... six... uhh... seven years. So, maybe a question you might think about... Do you own -or- do you live with guns?

We live with guns...

Monday, November 23, 2015

Six considerations to maintain perishable self-defense skills...

Many of us are life-long learners, continuing to build our knowledge, skills, and abilities through various endeavors... but how do we maintain the previous knowledge, skills, and abilities we've acquired? This is really were balance, planning, and time management in life can really make or break us, especially in regard to our self-defense skills... both mentally and kinesthetically.

Now that I'm in my third decade as a firearms instructor, the one thing I've noticed with students is that ultimately the impact of the training they receive and improvements made in class and on the range is often completely lost when they leave and don't do anything to maintain or improve those skills. I've even found some students are actually spending too much time attending courses and instruction or training and not enough time internalizing, practicing, refining, and applying the skills they've learned. Balance and steady progress is the key.

Merriam-Webster defines perishable as "liable to spoil or decay" and skill as "a developed aptitude or ability"... so we can safely say that a perishable skill is a developed aptitude or ability that is liable to decay. So, to get right to the point... here are six considerations to keep your self-defense skills from perishing:

Conditioning: While the actual implementation or use of a specific skill or set of skills for self-defense cam be separate from the activities involved with conditioning both your mindset and body, it is still essential for the ease, proficiency, and endurance. We need condition both our mindset through activities designed to stimulate, stress, and challenge our mind to move from our instinctive reactions to purposeful responses that overcome our inherent fears, biases, and expectations that make us vulnerable to apathy and aggression.

Physically, we need to develop our strength and endurance that relates to and enhances the specific physiological processes, movements, and skills used for self-defense, whether it be empty-hand skills or skills in the use of various tools such as knives, impact weapons, or firearms.

Visualizing: This is one of the most overlooked aspects of both mental and physical conditioning a lot of self-defense minded people overlook, yet it has been proven effective for athletes, doctors, pilots, and many others... even showing in some studies that it actually triggers the autonomic nervous system. Simply, visualizing is mentally rehearsing actions and responses in specific situations, conditions, and environments.

The advantage for self-defense is that it can be done almost anywhere. You can take a moment in the office to visualize an attack you saw on video and how you would react and respond. You can close your eyes in the comfort and safety of your home or as you lie in bed and visualize an arm-bar technique or malfunction clearing of your firearm. You will find that "seeing" can help in "doing".

Practicing: Everyone says, "Well, duh... of course practice is important." Since we can all agree that practice is critical to success with our skills, let's focus on why we don't practice. Most of us our too busy and too involved in too many things. This is why I like simple self-defense moves, techniques, and skills because when it is all added up, we don't have enough time to do everything. I truly believe quality and frequency of practice is more important than quantity and breadth. That means that dropping by the shooting range regularly every two weeks for an hour and being very purposeful about practicing with fifty rounds of ammunition is probably more valuable than blasting away hundreds of rounds once every few months.

You're probably better off practicing three good draw-and-dry-fire sequences each night and also practicing your knife and empty-hand skills than to do fifty dry-fire shots and neglect practicing your other skills. While I'm on the subject of dry-fire practice, I do it and it is a good thing... but I know some people have gone too far with dry-fire to the point of never getting to the range and just like katas in martial arts are good for conditioning and practice, it doesn't replace actually striking a bag or working with sparring partner.

Additionally, we need to make sure we're practicing with purpose... and that means doing drills that apply to reality and developing our mindset while practicing with good techniques and responses. Why are you scanning and assessing after your shots are fired, is it self-defense theater, or something with purpose? Do you practice verbalizing while you practice self-defense moves or firing shots at a bad-guy target? Do you practice with your spouse or partner? Don't forget to develop and reinforce your mindset and critical thinking skills by incorporating thinking and decision-making in your practice routines and sequences.

Simulating: We obviously can't go full-Rambo in empty-hand or weapon self-defense practice and training... or half of us wouldn't survive to use our skills against a real aggressor. That being said, we all need a good "punch in the face" once in a while. We need to stress our bodies and minds with that blasted shot timer or some competitions like IDPA matches or sparring at our local dojo.

We need to do things like regularly practice and simulate our family's home invasion plans and we need to make pressured shoot/don't shoot decisions on the shooting range. One reason I like practicing hostage shots occasionally is that... while I think in real life it is highly unlikely that most of us can pull off a true hostage shot at much distance with live aggressors and hostages moving about... it helps me build mental stress visualizing and realizing that a missed hostage-taker shot is a killing-shot for my loved one... there's no second chances... there is no "oops"... threw that one a little low on the target!

If you can occasionally get to a FATS or Sim-Trainer at a local range, take advantage of it. If you can practice your escapes and self-defense moves in the gym or dojo with a partner, do it. Good simulation will involve both mental and physical challenges that will help you develop your mindset and body to understand your reactions and refine and control your responses to threats and other stimulus while you're under stress. You'll soon start to realize the impact of stress on your breathing, heart-rate, and muscles and determine how to manage it, develop confidence in your skills, and control your responses.

Coaching: Once the instruction is done, and while coaching often occurs during instruction, the coaching often ends with the course or class. If you have access to a mentor or instructor who can provide you with some coaching, it can really help you refine your skills and correct bad habits, sloppy techniques, and inefficient movements. Just like football, once the instruction is done and the players know the plays, their team-mates and moves... the coach helps refine, coordinate, and bring it all together on the field.

Fortunately, I have several fellow instructors that occasionally get together throughout the year to help coach each other and see things in my shooting that I don't. Once the instruction is done, a good self-defense trainer or martial arts teacher or sensei can provide coaching to help you refine and grow your mindset and techniques.

Evaluating: Finally, evaluation is critical to check progress. To me, one of the most important shots I evaluate with the shot timer is the time of the first shot I fire drawing from concealment when I walk onto the range. My benchmark to draw and fire an accurate shot at seven yards is two seconds. Sure, I can practice and game my stance and clothing positioning to get down under a 1.8 or 1.7 seconds drawing and firing from concealment, but that is not reality nor the benchmark I care about. You need to set realistic and applicable benchmarks and standards with metrics to measure them, then evaluate your skills.

Evaluate your equipment, staging, positioning, and how it effects your performance against the benchmarks and standards you've set. Adjust your practice, conditioning, and other areas based on solid data, not just what you "feel" you need to do. We tend to focus on what we like doing, but maybe that weak-side palm strike or weak-side-only shooting is where we need more time.

No matter how hard I practice... I still can't employ a folding knife as quickly, effectively, and reliably as I can a fixed-blade knife so I prefer to carry a fixed-blade knife to meet my personal benchmarks and standards. You will have to make your own decisions as to what works for you, but make sure your evaluation is realistic and applicable with metrics you can document. There's a lot of "derp" out there on the internet and in the movies.

Finally, you sometimes need to push your skills to the point of failure. If you meet every benchmark and standard you've set... then it's time to raise your benchmarks and re-evaluate the standards you're trying to meet or even add new skills.

While each of these considerations could be greatly expanded... hopefully, you'll find it a good framework to start thinking about your mindsets and skillsets... and assess what you do... with these...

Six considerations to maintain perishable self-defense skills...