“Surround yourself with cultures that challenge your pursuit of excellence and be cautious of groupthink and complacency.”
– Aaron Barruga, Guerrilla Approach.
I originally penned the majority of this on 03NOV2017, the eve of the supposed nationwide Antifa insurgency to take down Herr Trump’s regime. What better time? Many of the audience who will read this were probably at home oiling their guns and frothing at the prospect of gettin’ some lefty scalps and many thought “it was finally time.” As I predicted it was just like any other day. My preparedness posture remained the same just like it always does. I stay as prepared as I can be and the rest is beyond my control. I still view all politics with cynicism and contempt and I see both the Left and the Right as a choice between the gallows or the gas chamber. I urge everyone to step outside the paradigm. As Delmar said in Oh Brother Where Art Thou, “Come on in boys, the water is fine.”
I want to say a few things about the target audience. The concepts herein are prolific in what I’ll call the “mainstream training culture” but for some reason can be absolutely foreign to most in the survival milieu. I blame institutional inbreeding and gate keeping. My aim has always been to change that line of thinking in those circles and broaden horizons.
Some time has passed since the last installment of this series and its time for the Phoenix to rise from the ashes. I’ve attended several classes and had more conversations with people. We’ll informally call this the Timmy’s vs. Gamer’s edition.
“There ain’t no timer in a gun fight, bro!”
It’s fairly fashionable to choose sides in the Tactical Timmy vs. Gamer debate. Yet I refuse. I learn from both.
A common refrain among some shooters, the Timmy’s to be specific, is that shot timers are competition gamer toys. The party line says that training with them gives you zero value in the real world. Yet the fact remains they are one of very few methods to track performance metrics, inducing stress and holding one accountable to a standard. As Pat McNamara says, when that little blue beeper box is held up, “a little poop comes out.”
I’d submit if you can’t measure it, you cannot manage it with any degree of success.
It’s been said a number of ways and by a number of people that gun fights come down to “milliseconds and millimeters” to use John “Chappy” Chapman’s language. Others have said, accuracy is final, but the rounds must arrive on time. (John Mosby)
I’m hardly an advocate of putting a timer on every thing someone does with a gun and most of my personal training is without one. But without it at some point, there is no real way to objectively measure performance gains. I value what a timer gives me when it is employed.
A timer can help you find hard data points. For instance you may put a draw on time and figure out that appendix carry is faster than behind the hip that low ready is faster than high ready with a carbine. You may think those ultra fast hand movements made a draw super fast, but the timer showed that efficient movements were faster, objectively, because it put your sights where they needed to be by kinesthetic alignment without having to adjust the picture as much.
A timer is very useful in analyzing the speed vs. accuracy dilemma. By using the training aid we may determine that at a persons current skill level, they are able to put 6 rounds into the high thoracic cavity in half the amount of time it takes them to put 2 shots touching at the same distance. Which would you take in a self-defense situation when milliseconds matter and rounds are flying toward your face? I’ve been told first hits and lots of them in the right area usually win.
I will be the first to say it’s rather silly to constantly chase the timer. It’s all about good clean reps, not horrible reps just to hit time and post on FaceSpaceGram. Most people understand this. Those sloppy reps with bad sight alignment or a bad grip shouldn’t count in dry fire if one is serious about pursuing excellence.
Going “Ricky Bobby,” otherwise known as “I wanna go fast, man!” is not always necessarily a bad thing. It is if you aren’t putting in good reps and you start out running your headlights. Mike Pannone points out that “speed is a magnifying glass for errors.” If you have a bad grip on a magazine on a reload at half speed, you may still be able to get the job done. But if you put it at speed, you’ll see that one little error can make you completely miss the reload. You can then dissect that, correct the problem, work a micro drill of properly obtaining a grip on the mag, and then driving on. Ask me how I know.
Some methodologies focus purely on accuracy and “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” I’ll be the first to advocate for efficiency and that it then produces speed. But “slow is smooth…” is an equation that doesn’t add up. If slow is smooth, and smooth is fast, then slow is fast. Wut?
To throw in a personal anecdote, when I only relied on how reps felt or what my accuracy was doing at the time, I felt that what I was doing was fast and acceptable. I never really pushed the envelope. Only when employing some sort of timer did I find out I was actually efficient and smooth at much higher speeds. I then found out I could push it till the wheels fell off, then back up and put them back on and continue pursuing top performance.
“They just pulled that Standard out of their ass!”
A Standards test or Qualification lets you quantifiably know your own or another shooters performance level. Think of these as a pop quiz and your practice sessions as studying.
Are standards everything? They are often set on bars so low that they are meaningless. Think, most state mandated CCW tests. But generally speaking standards are simply a method to measure performance on demand of a skill that is easily measured across a set of participants. It then gives a great opportunity to ascertain deficiencies and get to work correcting them. If your buddies got together and shot some standards on a range day, you could use the hard data points to then direct further group range days to work those areas that need attention. I have PLENTY of areas that need attention and I’m sure you do as well. After working to correct the problem areas with practice, you can run the standard again in the future and quantifiably see how you stack up, take note of improvement and so on.
Here is a non-shooting related example. I ran a test on my rucking capability last spring with 65lbs. I covered 2.5 miles in 32 minutes and change. I gave it all I had. I worked conditioning for several months in various ways. I then retested it on the same course with the same weight and did it in 28 minutes. I’ll the improvement.
Given the target audience of this article, if a ‘survival group’ ran a cross section of assessment tests covering shooting carbine, pistol and physical conditioning, they may figure out they need to work pistol skills more than rifle, and that conditioning is pretty good, but could always be better. That tells them to increase the dry/live fire on the pistol, put down the rifle for a second and keep PT steady. Other skills assessments can be added in later as necessary.
Standards themselves have often been seen in a controversial light. Sometimes written off as times and scores that are pulled out of thin air, the fact is they can serve as valuable assessment tools and are based on aggregates of performance. It is basic common sense that if someone passes a quantifiable standard that they are capable of that performance on demand. This seems extremely valuable in a team context. If you cannot prove to your team mate that you can drag his 250 lb. body behind cover in a fire fight in the event that his legs are shot out from under him, then you are doing a disservice to him. Isn’t that what all the fuss about girls in Ranger school was all about? In this context, a test of sorts to prove certain abilities makes sense. If he knows your capability before hand, by passing some sort of standard, you can probably depend on that performance when the time comes. In a military or tactical context, how can you plan a mission without a complete knowledge of your capabilities?
If you don’t know quantifiable performance levels, its almost like you are at Jeff Cooper’s Unconscious Incompetence level. You don’t know what you don’t know. It would seem to me that any sort of group, or team that doesn’t employ some sort of standard at some point in training or assessment, they are just pretending. Standards are used on professional teams of all stripes to determine abilities, assess and select. Football teams have try-outs. Educational institutions have placement tests. Special Forces has SFAS.
Quite a number of instructors will start their classes with some sort of standard exercise to assess the shooters. Kyle Defoor is cited as one of the first guys to use this methodology on a widespread basis in the modern era. If the instructor then sees a pattern that maybe accuracy needs to be worked over mechanics, the Point of Instruction can rapidly adapt and focus on what needs attention. Why go to shooting on the move at a certain time hack in the POI, when no one can get hits standing still yet? The standards assessment can be shot again later on in the class to assess improvement.
But don’t let a certain standard be an end point. Strive for performance rather than just an outcome. Just because I set a goal to hit 20 dead hang chins, doesn’t mean I don’t want to hit 21 or 25 or 35. So it goes with shooting performance. I don’t just want to smoke qualification course of fire we are doing that day, I want to eat its lunch. Consider these tests as minimum acceptable performance.
I think Will Petty said it best, “Not everyone who qualifies is a gunfighter, but all gunfighters will qual.”
“Competition will get you kilt in da streetz!”
“Competitive shooting made me a better marksman because it forced me to apply skills in a vacuum in which only my performance mattered. When you look at the shot timer and your score, it doesn’t matter if you can regurgitate the ‘right’ answer or what so-and-so says about accuracy. The only thing that matters is whether you applied those concepts in action.
In today’s society, we are overly conditioned to avoid seeking answers on our own through experience. For some, this stems from indoctrinated thinking that encourages regurgitation. For others, they do not develop judgment because honestly, it requires effort and they’re just too lazy.
It will always be easier to regurgitate someone else’s answer. Although advice can help, it should never form the core of a belief or skill. Regardless, at the end of the day it’s not your favorite instructor that will be shooting your gun, for you, at your match or in your fight, it will just be you.” – Aaron Barruga, Guerrilla Approach
“When you don’t train under stress and pressure…that is the definition of complacency. You think you are better than you actually are.” – Ron Avery, Tactical Performance Center
What people cannot wrap their head around is that shooting is just a component skillset of a gunfight, not the only component. We break these things apart and work them in sections or individually all the time. Louis Awerbuck famously said, “Shooting is 90% mental, probably stemming from the fact that shooting is 90% mental.” I think John Chapman has a great corollary to that. He says that shooting is only 10% of a gunfight, and the rest is problem solving, communication, movement, mindset, mental processing, etc., ad infinitum. So the more we can put the shooting skills into our subconscious or to use Coopers verbiage, Unconscious Competence, the more we can devote our mental energy to that other 90% of the fight.
Mike Pannone has a very god rap about the difference between a drill or shooting exercise and a scenario. A drill or exercise works a component skill set, i.e., draw to first shot break, Ready Up’s with a carbine, or a malfunction clearance exercise. A scenario is an open-ended story that you are put into and you have to guide to a conclusion. Think Force on Force or more realistically a home invasion. Working a component shooting skill set on a flat range is not practicing to gunfight; it’s working a component skill set of gun fighting.
Let me define competition in the context of this article. I’m using it to mean a formal shooting competition like USPSA as well as informal events like running shooting exercises with friends as opponents solely to induce stress and put pressure on shooters. Examples: An official IPSC stage or 9-hole for time with your shooting buddies.
Shooting a competition for instance allows one to work the sights and triggers aspect of all this at a high level. It allows you to fine tune processing and seeing what you need to see to make hits. Frank Proctor talks quite a bit about how competition increased his ability to see and process to all new highs that he never got in Special Forces, which then turned his CQB work into gravy. He relays a story about going to his first match when he was the lead shooting instructor for his Group in Special Forces. What could he learn? He was the top guy already. He showed up and could not believe the level of shooters there were. He then set out to learn what those guys were doing and brought it back to his guys.
Competitions and similar activities also allows you to work movement as efficiently as possible and work the accuracy needed to get the most hits. It pushes you do to it as fast and efficiently as possible. Numerous “operators” have said that competition is WAY more stressful than combat. They are in fact too numerous to list. Many related that combat was cake compared to the pressure and stress of people watching you on unknown courses of fire under time, knowing that some 75 year old guy was probably going to work them over on the next stage.
There is a training scar objection. Competition or most shooting exercises in general work mechanics not tactics but for some reason people confuse the two. Lets say a drill may have you hit a 1 Reload 1, while taking a knee to reload. People criticize this by saying, “that’s stupid, I’d never do that in real life.” These people completely ignoring the fact that the drill is just demonstrating that you can move and reload at the same time on a flat range. It’s not practicing tactical application of the reload. You are simply working mechanics and you can apply tactics to the skill when and how it is appropriate for the situation at hand.
People object with “But bruh! It will get you killed! You dumped a mag on the deck! You reloaded while moving! You’d never work that cover like that!”
If one cannot tell the difference between an outlaw stage set up by friends on a Sunday and a fire team under contact, Houston, we have a problem. If this person has a gun, they are probably a liability to society. If I’m in a platoon size gunfight with suppressive fire and hard cover, I’ll gladly top that rifle off behind a brick wall before I make my next movement because I want a topped off gun. I would be applying a component skill of shooting, a reload in this case, in a tactically appropriate manner.
Whether it’s a USPSA stage or a practice day with friends with natural social pressure, these all demonstrate ones skills on demand, on someone else’s course of fire while they watch. It’s a win situation all around for improving shooting skills.
The animus that the “Timmy” crowd has for anything competition related is sort of ironic when you think about it. These same guys often are found to be employing athletic isosceles stances, aggressive C-clamp or thumb over bore grips, low power variable optics, and red dots, all of which came from the competition world.
The list of ‘tactical’ masterminds who have either shot competition in the past or continue to do so is baffling. Special Mission Unit type guys were bringing in competition shooters to run classes for them since the mid 1990’s. Rob Leatham, Ron Avery, and who knows who all else were running classes for these types on hand shake Non Disclosure Agreements for a long time. Many of these guys who were in these elite units are very open about how they used very IPSC/USPSA oriented training drills in their training.
From Kyle Lamb to Pat Mac to Mike Pannone to Frank Proctor to Mike Green of Green Ops to Tom Givens to Ken Hackathorn to the legendary Jeff Cooper, they all used competition to be better shooters. Cooper found out that competition was a means at which the full potential of the pistol could be found.
Renowned shooter Ernest Langdon, who won the first Production Nationals with a Beretta 92, made a great observation. He has stated that usually the guys who make the case “that stuff will get ya killed! Competition is for gamers only, not gun fighters! Put away those timers, no timers in a fight, bro!” usually are the ones who are scared to get their butt handed to them by a 12-year-old girl at the local match. I couldn’t imagine anything more ego bruising than a tactical ninja getting worked over by a 100 lb. over weight Plumber on a Saturday afternoon.
High Round Count Exercises
A common theme amongst commenters on past articles is that drills or exercises involving multiple target engagements are fantasies that just waste ammo. Some have even said that no civilian should even work those skills because they actually have to buy ammo and no one can afford it, unlike a military guy who gets it all for free. Yet these same people think that learning to do intense patrolling operations and team tactics is the most applicable and likely needed skill for an every day guy who works in suburbia. Just a casual devotee of proper mission planning and prioritization would show medical, pistol, or home defense carbine work are more applicable to daily life than Australian Peels.
Maybe I’m overlooking the intuitively obvious here but it seems that the most likely use of a carbine by an average guy is going to be in their domicile, unless the balloon goes up tomorrow. I would imagine it would be very advantageous to be able to put multiple rounds into multiple attackers with maximum speed, precision, and efficiency in a time frame faster than 2 of the 3 assailants could even effectively react to what is going on.
Some have a point when they criticize certain high round count drills as a possibility of wasting ammo and reinforcing bad habits. Given that humans cannot truly multitask, what we can do in those drills is reinforce what we know is right. If we took this logic to its logical end, we’d never pick up a gun because every time we did we’d be doing something less than optimal.
Ammo cost has been cited as a legitimate concern and without a doubt most folks could definitely use a few extra bucks in hand, myself included. However I’d submit that saving 20 rounds on a range day is not really something that is going to force everyone into Ramen Therapy for the next 3 weeks. Some skills simply need reps to gain performance.
I attended John Mosby of the Mountain Guerrilla Blog’s Clandestine Carry Pistol (take it!) class recently and he has a very good policy that during every hot wash, every one must ask a question, no exceptions. I asked him a question pertaining to this topic during one:
“What do you think about people who say things like the VTAC 1-5 drill and similar drills are wastes of ammo?”
“Those people are fucking stupid.”
I could of just left it at that, but why say something in 1 sentence when I could waste 10 pages?
The hostility toward using training aids such as a timer, shooting competition (formal or informal) or employing standards seems to mostly be because it is foreign and they do not understand what they are measuring. The misunderstanding is confusing a tactical situation, i.e. “THERE WAS A FIRE FIGHT!” with an exercise that measures a component skill of that fight like a B-8 hit to measure handgun accuracy or a timed 1 mile run to measure conditioning.
Since this article is directed at the survival type audience, I want to point this out. Different groups in the tactical/preparedness/Threeper milieu view Max Velocity Tactical in different ways. Some love, some hate. I could care less about drama but I like what MVT is doing. He is undoubtedly onto something with his TacGun concept. It seeks to separate things such as Small Unit Tactics (SUT) training from the Derp infested militia and preparedness scenes. It incorporates worthwhile aspects of many cross sections of both tactical and competition oriented firearms training. Physical fitness is a key element. There may be a 2-gun match day or a Force on Force day. I dig what Max is putting down. In essence he wants it all, and so do I, and working to remove the stigma of the over weight Militia “Colonel” in full camo from legitimate training is a very commendable effort.
Don’t settle for mediocrity. The Tactical Fantasy Band Camp notion of the mythical survival team that will suddenly rise from nothing to instant sniper status when the collapse comes is a subject that merits its own discussion. Aaron Barruga of Guerilla Approach offers some insights as to the inner workings of some of these types of communities. Be they fitness, tactical, or preparedness oriented, he puts it very bluntly, “rather than encouraging other members to excel, these groups viciously attack individuals and newcomers that challenge the status quo.” This seems to be very common in all the circles listed above.
Institutional inbreeding, groupthink and echo chambers are a thing and the currents are strong. If you value excellence, fight it with all you have. Draw from achievers of greatness even if it doesn’t fit ones worldview and employ those tactics, skills or techniques to your benefit. In the end, all the matters is what works best. Be on the mission to constantly defeat the Derp that is so pervasive these days. And be sure to prioritize your training and practice.
“But in a group dominated by mediocrity, you will second guess your purpose or whether your outlook is too aggressive… Drive must be learned through self-determination, a willingness to accept failure, and the patience to understand that growth takes time. Until this is accepted and understood, even the world’s best coaching and mentoring is useless.
Performance oriented groups that do not make their members aware of these values are really just trafficking in cleverly marketed leisure. This works because most underachievers are seeking an experience, not the pursuit of excellence. These individuals don’t want to truly challenge themselves to get better; they just want to be a part of something. – Aaron Barruga, Guerrilla Approach
“Either learn to drive a rifle or ride a rail car.” – Bill Buppert
Head up, gun up.
Author’s note: This article series is purposefully directed at more of the survival oriented audience to help on their training path. I’m not a tactical ninja but most of the material found in this series is known well to most everyone who has taken just one or two legitimate classes from a reputable source, although it remains foreign to many in the Threeper milieu.
I do not write from a viewpoint of utter contempt of Doomsdayers, as “I are one” for the most part, but I offer these as a gut check and motivation to do work instead of talk about it online.
About the author: John Meyers traces his Appalachian ancestry back nine generations to the 1750’s. He lives with his family on the high ridges of the Smoky Mountains.