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...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Over 18,500 rounds through a Ruger SR9...

To admit my bias up-front, most people who know me know I love all things Ruger. Ruger is an innovative (especially in manufacturing), debt-free company that produces American-made guns made by hard-working Americans... and that's something that has always appealed to me.  Now, as a firearms instructor, I often recommend to my students that want a self-defense or concealed carry pistol, that it's hard to beat a Glock or S&W M&P... but for me and also budget-conscious people... it's hard to beat the quality and reliability of most Ruger products in any given category.

That budget concern is one of many factors that led my family to select the Ruger SR9 and SR9c pistols for home defense and concealed carry because I wasn't just purchasing one pistol, we were purchasing three pistols. It was a pistol, at the time back in 2008, that was very slender in the grip and seemed to fit the hands fairly well for my wife, my daughter, and me. We were looking for a standardized gun for the family that would work well for self-defense, plinking, IPDA, and concealed carry, while allowing magazine interchangeability between family members, having common parts to keep on hand, and even holsters too.

Some of our Ruger SR9's - we have a number of them - were purchased through Ruger's Instructor Purchase Program and are used in the firearm courses and 4H Shooting Sports that I instruct. One particular Ruger SR9 we purchased in 2009 became my "endurance-quality" test gun. I wanted to see what problems we'd encounter over time.

We started with Todd Green's 2000-round Challenge back in 2011.  I took this new SR9 right out of the box, visually inspected it, but did not clean it... and finally after 2,618 rounds fired... we had a stove-pipe on round 2,619! The gun needed cleaning... badly. We had only had three prior failures during those 2,618 rounds due to ammo not firing with clear, deep primer strikes using Winchester White-Box and Federal 115 grain FMJ ammo we had used.

Now, this particular gun has been our primary practice gun (we do shoot the others regularly) and I decided that I wanted to see what would break or wear-down first on this gun since my entire family is betting our lives on the Ruger SR9 series. The gun was regularly cleaned and maintained after that first 2,619 rounds and just passed 18,500 rounds fired this past weekend.  It did go back to Ruger once after 12,200 rounds to replace a Striker Spring Cup that had cracked (Part #25 in the Ruger SR9 Manual)... which Ruger took care of at no cost... although they probably had no idea how many rounds had been through the gun.

So... here we are, well-past 18,500 rounds fired with many brands of ammunition and 9mm variations... still with the original springs in the gun and magazines. There is definitely wear showing on areas of the barrel and inside the slide, but not so much we're concerned and it still holds tight groups. Yes we've had failure to fire and other malfunctions mostly due to ammunition problems or students limp-wristing on occasion, but the over-all, steady reliability of this gun gives us complete confidence in these pistols. Hopefully, we'll pass 20,000 rounds this winter and keep on going... as I'm curious as to how long the springs will last providing reliable cycling.

I remember three years ago when my wife, daughter and I showed up at the Tactical Defense Institute's Defensive Pistol Levels 1, 2, and 3 with our Ruger SR9's as part of my daughter's high school graduation present. We were told they never saw a Ruger SR9 make it through the three-day, high-round-count course without failing. Well, two of the three Ruger SR9's we brought with us did fine with over 1,300 rounds through each of them, but one started to have light primer strikes on day three after about 900 rounds... mostly due to being gunked-up with residue from over-oiling by my daughter. Lesson in lubrication learned! Oh, and by the way... we also saw Glocks, M&P's, Sig's, F&N's and many other pistols malfunction during that course.

So, while we do own a number of Glocks and S&W M&P's, along with other pistols and brands... our Rugers are still our go-to guns for the most part... and I tune-up/re-build most of them every 3,000 to 4,000 rounds... we feel pretty good about our choice for many reasons, including... Over 18,500 rounds through a Ruger SR9...

How have your experiences been with the Ruger SR9 series?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Blinded by the light... shining in YOUR face!

As I drove up the long lane to the house, the lights of a vehicle suddenly came on and momentarily blinded me. I quickly stopped the cruiser about a hundred yards from the other vehicle just as my eyes adjusted and the silhouette of a man with a shotgun stepped in front of the lights. Grabbing my pistol with one hand and the handle of the spotlight with the other, I lit him up... with the spotlight... it was the farmer who called in the prowler he saw behind his house. That was more than two decades ago, but it taught me early on and reminded me quickly that as much as we were instructed and trained about the temporary blinding effects of unexpectedly shining our flashlights or spotlights on a suspect... the same could happen to us.

As close as I can recall from my memory and records, I've completed nine different training opportunities as a police officer or regular citizen over the years that either included a component of shooting in low-light or at night or were focused specifically on that type of shooting or self-defense situation. I've even participated in two force-on-force courses that involved low-light scenarios. The idea that a flashlight or other light might be shining back at me was never even discussed in any of these training courses or opportunities.

As much as we were taught the importance of clearly identifying our potential threats and targets and instructed on the many techniques for shooting in low-light while using a flashlight, tactical light or weapon light... none of those courses ever dealt with encountering a person or aggressor shining a light back at you... in your face... temporarily blinding you. I asked a friend about it who is a recently retired LEO with many years of Special Response Team experience... and he said he had never seen that situation presented in training even though he had encountered it while on duty several times over the years.

If you were to base your assumptions about possible encounters with aggressors or criminals... or even neighbors... at night or in low-light situations based upon much of the training currently offered or that most people receive... YOU are apparently the only one that brings a light with you into a low-light or dark situation. I would hazard a guess... that if you encounter someone, there is the distinct possibility they will have a light with them, even if it's just the one on their iPhone. The basic low-light course I teach incorporates a number of different scenarios to help train people using a tactical light to clearly, accurately, and quickly identify and confirm a possible threat. One scenario I have my students try is confronting a target that shines a flashlight back in their face.

Positively identifying people and whether or not they pose a threat in low-light or dark situations is a difficult task that requires the proper mindset, tools, training, and practice to do well... but encountering a light shining back in your face can really make that process difficult by temporarily blinding you. Even a low-power flashlight like the the cheap ones I use in various scenarios on the shooting range, like in the photo above, can temporarily cause all else to go black as the light blinds you, your eyes try to adjust, and your OODA loop becomes O...O...O...O.

It's a really tough situation to be in, but it's not an unlikely situation. Maybe it's a burglar who brought a flashlight with him. Maybe it's a neighbor with a spotlight you encounter in the back yard who heard the same "bump in the night" that you're investigating. Maybe it's the lights of another vehicle or porch lights that jut came on. There is a strong possibility that you will sometime find yourself staring into a blinding light that diminishes your visual sight to identify potential threats.

This situation presents a number of problems for anyone interested in self-defense as darkness seems to come around about once a day and lasts several hours.  If someone "lights you up" in the dark, you need to make quick decisions. Can you quickly get back behind cover or concealment? Are you in the middle of the yard or a garage where you have no readily available cover or concealment? If you shine your light on them, can you see well enough to identify them and if the pose a threat?

Here's a couple of thoughts to consider. Try to not look directly at the light, but don't look completely away either, and scan around the light to determine where the person is in relation to the light. Also, you can shine your light back at them putting them in the same disadvantaged situation. Either way, this is a tough situation to be in. Fortunately for us, we have a private range where we can practice these low-light situations.  If you don't have access to a range that allows low-light shooting, you might try incorporating it into your practice at home with either your dry-fire practice (try lighting yourself up in a mirror) or consider role-play (not using your real gun) in your home with family members playing the other person or intruder with a light shining back at you.

So... have you trained... practiced... or visualized what you're going to do... when you're...

Blinded by the light... shining in YOUR face!

Note: If any of you have been to training that addresses this situation in the classroom or on the shooting range... let me know when and where and who... I'd love to sharpen my iron with other instructors or training opportunities...

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Five reasons to shoot your Every-Day-Carry Self-Defense ammunition!

Like everyone else in a time zone that follows Daylight Savings Time... we set our clocks back an hour last night and enjoyed an extra hour of sleep. This also begins a semi-annual ritual we have in our "prepping" mindset of checking, changing, updating, and discarding items to keep our "tools" in top shape, ready for use.

Many things are checked over and refreshed. Flashlights get new batteries and the old batteries are rotated out to more mundane tasks such as powering television remotes or toys... fresh, stabilized gasoline is put in the generators with the old going into the vehicles... and most importantly... we practice out back on the range, shooting our chosen self-defense ammunition that has been carried daily since the last time the clocks were reset.

As a life-long shooter... former law enforcement officer... a long-time firearms instructor... and a daily concealed carrier... I am always amazed at the number of people I meet who have either never shot their self-defense ammunition or have been carrying around the same self-defense rounds in their firearms for years... even more than a decades! The most consistent excuse I hear is, "Do you have any idea how much that ammo costs?" Apparently it costs just a bit more than what your life is worth.

Everyone has to make their own choices. As a general rule of thumb... I don't carry a gun until I'm comfortable with it's reliability, particularly with the self-defense ammunition I've selected.  For me, that means at least 500 rounds fired reliably through a gun with at least 100 rounds of that being the self-defense ammunition I've chosen. That way I know the ammunition works when I need it to.

So with that being said, here are five reason you should shoot your Every-Day-Carry Self-Defense ammunition at least twice each year:
  1. It confirms your firearm functions reliably with that particular ammunition.
  2. It acclimates you to the the "feel" of firing that ammunition - including sound, muzzle-flash, and recoil - which may be substantially different than the inexpensive practice ammunition you use on the range.
  3. It keeps the ammunition in your daily-carried self-defense firearm - that has likely been exposed to heat, cold, humidity, moisture, sweat, or other contaminants - fresh and reliable.
  4. It forces you to practice. For some of you, if we're being completely honest here, it may be the only two times each year that you actually fire your gun and twice a year is better than none.
  5. It reminds you to check your firearm over and clean or lubricate it as necessary.
Some of you may have other thoughts on how often or why to shoot your daily carry self-defense ammunition... but I think you'll agree that twice a year is budget-friendly enough for most people who don't shoot it due to the replacement cost. If nothing else, I hope you'll agree that these are...

Five reasons to shoot your Every-Day-Carry Self-Defense ammunition!