Whether you read it in Latin (“Repetitio mater studiorum est”), Russian (“Повторе́ние—мать уче́нья”) or English (“Repetition is the mother of all learning”), to build a skill, you must repeat something over and over again to master it.
How many repetitions are necessary to build a skill? I guess it depends on how “unnatural” it is for you and the difficulty of the skill, itself.
… when training, be cautious of the words, “always” and “never.”
At the Range
First, let’s consider what happens at the range. The motor programs you practice build muscle memory. Instead of just going through the motions, make a conscious effort to do everything the way you would want to perform in a fight for your life.
In real life, no one walks around with a magazine in their hand. So, at the range, when you load and make ready, load from your magazine pouch instead of the magazine you hand-carry downrange, and slap it into the back of the pistol.
Another bad habit I see people make: On the firing line, they’ll position their feet just so, maybe even clearing away pebbles and brass or really dig in to get the perfect stance. Then, just before hearing the signal to draw, they place their strong hand in a contrived position—maybe even touching the pistol—and stare at the target the whole time. In a perfect world, all gunfights would start this way. However, we don’t live in a perfect world. When something goes down in the real world, there’s no advanced warning to get yourself ready.
Remember that every opportunity you have to properly manipulate your weapon system or gear is a training opportunity. Not doing so is squandering time and money (read, “ammo”). Take some extra time to build solid skills that go beyond just shooting the gun.
Remember that every opportunity you have to properly manipulate your weapon system or gear is a training opportunity.
When There Is No Time to Think
When you have no time to think, you’re going to do what you’ve most often done. If what you’ve most often done is not what you would want to do in a self-defense situation, you might want to rethink what and how you are practicing. Here are some ideas for building skills you can rely on when there simply is no time to think:
- Make a conscious decision to draw your pistol from the holster every time you get a chance, rather than “taking” it from the holster in a lackadaisical
- Load your pistol positively as if your life depends on it. Load from your magazine pouch or wherever you regularly carry your spare magazine. Don’t miss an opportunity to practice a reload by using a magazine already in your hand.
- Breathe, scan and check your surroundings. Build awareness skills by watching those around you. Create a safer environment by seeing what is going on. Situational awareness breeds safety.
- When your gun runs dry, reload it quickly and smoothly, and get back to the target. By doing this, you’re building a motor program to react to an empty gun.
- Stop worrying about foot placement. If you must have your feet in a certain position before you think you can shoot correctly, you are already a step behind.
- Start your drills from any position except a ready position. You have to learn to move to the gun and draw it. For example: arms crossed, hand in your pocket or even a surrender position.
- Don’t stare at the target. Be in a relaxed state of awareness. You’re aware the target is there, but it’s not a threat to you until you decide or someone else calls out, “Threat!”
Consider your everyday carry pistol. Something you might do on a daily basis with that gun is to take it out of the holster when you come home, unload it, load it. All these things have training value when done with a purpose.
For many years, my husband, Chris, has been using and teaching solid motor programs for loading and unloading all weapon systems. I didn’t always understand what he was doing, but now that I’ve been shooting, training and carrying for several years, I get it!
He handles his guns and gear how he would expect to react in the field. The motor programs he uses for loading and making ready follows. When he combines the loading sequence with an unloading and clearing sequence, it truly employs all the skills you should be competent in doing with a handgun … everything but firing live rounds.
Load and Make-Ready Sequence of Events
- Assume a firing platform (not a contrived “stance”).
- Draw your pistol—sometimes to full presentation—and get on the sights. Other times, draw just to the loading position. The gun should be up in your work space (around chin level).
- If you presented the pistol, bring it back to your work space. The muzzle should be up at a 45-degree angle, with the magazine well turned inward and visible. Keep strong arm triceps glued to your upper body, with the elbow in toward your belly button. Position the gun up high, and you should be looking downrange through your trigger guard or past the muzzle. Keep your head up and scanning, just as if you were doing a reload.
- Remove a magazine from where you normally carry it.
- Take a quick look to put the magazine into the magazine well and firmly seat it. (If you currently take a quick look, you soon won’t need to, because you’ve learned the path.) Keep your head up, scanning.
- Chamber a round, present back out to your target, and get on the sights.
- Bring your pistol back into a high-ready position and de-cock if appropriate. Do a press check or chamber check if desired, maintaining situational awareness.
- (No rush; just be positive in your movements.)
It doesn’t always have to be just like this. Chris and I will catch ourselves being lazy from time to time and not using solid motor programs. We are as conscious of doing things the wrong way as we are of doing them correctly.
We don’t always present the pistol when we load and make ready. But we try to always draw the pistol from the holster instead of just lifting it out. Reaching for magazines from where we normally keep them also changes. It might be a front pocket, a rear pocket or a side cargo pocket; nevertheless, we usually have a first choice: the back pocket. Because of clothing and gear changes, you might have to do things differently at different times or for different reasons.
Ultimately, you are responsible for your training. Make conscious decisions to do things right when handling weapons and gear.
Rely on Your Base Motor Program
Make sure you have a base motor program to rely on. These base programs can cause you to operate so quickly and smoothly that you won’t remember doing something as complex as an emergency reload. Of course, there will still be times you operate like a soup sandwich—a sloppy mess. And when training, be cautious of the words, “always” and “never.”
Ultimately, you are responsible for your training. Make conscious decisions to do things right when handling weapons and gear. And do things right more than you do them lazy.
Repetition truly is the mother of all learning—and you need to be careful with what you repeat.
Now, ask yourself, What skills have I learned?
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the August 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.