Friday, August 14, 2009

High Level Skills + Intensity

He is an up-and-coming lieutenant in a foreign service.  He heard a story about something I did the week before and so he tracked me down to ask about some one-on-one training time.  He wanted close-quarters handgun.  Or knife throwing. Sigh. We went with the handgun.  Four count draw, dry fire, firing from retention, moving and shooting, scanning.  Because he was a leader we also went into how to train: faults to watch for, what would happen if his men ever needed to shoot as a team.

At one point he threw up his hands and said, “I am so angry. Everything they taught us was wrong!”

If you look, you’ll see that that one statement has driven a number of recent posts. 

To an extent, people read what they either want or expect to read. Many people have interpreted MoV as a scathing critique of traditional martial arts and think that I’m attacking them here.  Sometimes.  But I wouldn’t stick with something for (OMFG! It will be 30 years soon! How did I make it to this age?) so long if I thought I was wasting my time.

Back to the lieutenant.  What he had learned at his basic training were the fundamentals of pistol marksmanship. They weren’t wrong, they were just incomplete.  Beginners need to learn safety.  It’s stupid to accidentally kill yourself.  They need to get some feeling for success and how the weapons work, so they become a stable platform.  They learn grip and sight alignment and sight picture and breath control and trigger press.

They learn these fundamentals in a context that makes it easy for the instructor to monitor and easy for the student to correct- good lighting, good footing, hearing and eye protection, safety monitors and not moving.

Those environmental basics are rare as hell in real life.  Gunfire is loud and muzzleflash can be blinding in low light.  Often not only is the footing bad, but it may be too dark to tell how bad.  And you’d better damn well be moving unless you already have good cover. If you do have good cover, think about moving anyway because the threat should try to flank you.  And cover geometry can be counterintuitive- cover is often better the farther you are away from it.  Said it was counter-intuitive.

There are details that came at a price- when and how to fire from retention; why the weapon should be canted out when at retention.   Details that aren’t on the beginning syllabus.

Combat shooting, whether raiding or counter-ambush, is a whole different animal than range training.  Honestly, range training is probably closest to assassination skills, which aren’t that useful for good guys.

And there are things that work very well on the range that are ineffective in real life.  I was a weaver shooter for decades, trained that way from a pup.  But there are three significant flaws in the weaver- it is almost impossible to maintain while moving.  It points the biggest hole in your body armor (armpit) right at the threat.  Most damning is that according to research no one has been able to pull it off in a firefight.  An assassination maybe.  I wish I could reference the study (library not here!) but in reviewing all the videorecorded gun encounters he could get (which I had a hard time believing was a lot…), the researcher couldn’t find a single one where the person fired from a weaver, even if he had trained weaver for decades. (Some corroboration from, if memory serves, "Men Under Fire".)

But that doesn’t make dojo or range training wrong.  I go to the range. I practice my dry-fire and failure to fire drills.  When I have access to a good instructor, I go to my martial arts classes.  Nothing is wrong, but it is incomplete.  So when I practice my dry fire, I know what I will see when the projectile hits flesh and I know what it will do to my mind and body- because I have experienced it.  Once.  When I go to classes I know when I am practicing moving and when I am practicing breaking people.  Often, in my experience, the instructor does not know that crucial difference.

It gets wrong for me in two ways: when the students insist that what they do is what there is.  When they are taught that the real world changes nothing (One of the best grappling instructors in the world talking to a room full of LEOs: "No, we've never actually tried this in body armor and duty gear, but that wouldn't change anything." Sigh), that there is a one-to-one correlation between the skills they practice safely with their friends on their nice clean mats and being ambushed by someone who uses violence professionally or is in a rage.  The other 'wrong' is when the techniques become centered around the artificial aspects.  Altering techniques for safety is inevitable, but when the altered technique becomes the right way and the effective technique becomes the wrong way, it doesn’t work for me.

So I practice the pieces with as much awareness as I can of the totality, and the absolute certainty that there is a lot of that totality I haven’t seen yet and I will inevitably fail and have to improvise.


Bobbe Edmonds said...

This one was great, it spoke to me. Thanks for posting!

Steve said...

The map isn't the territory. The doesn't mean that map reading is a useless skill.

Steve Perry said...

Good post. Getting better at circling that hard-to-say point and making it clearer.

Terry said...

I'd have to say, at a certain point, any good training leads you to knowing when, and at least a hint towards how to improvise, if you have a mind for it.
Great post, Rory, thanks.