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...