I’ll Come To Your Emotional Rescue.

Ron Avery has some interesting thoughts on bringing the reality of the gunfight into our training and practice.

Practice with the emotional intensity of a real encounter. You are FIGHTING, not just shooting. Psychological toughness/dominance is a mindset that must be exercised in order to develop it. As part of your training, visualize what you are doing as an actual encounter. Mindset is everything and it starts before you get to the range. Paul Carlson also expressed similar thoughts on a recent episode of The Gunfighter podcast, and that got me thinking about the dog that is not barking inside the training community, namely, creating the emotions we’ll need to win a deadly force encounter.

To be honest, prepping for the emotional portion of a deadly force encounter has not entered my mind in the least. Maybe it’s because there is a fine, fine line between the sense of urgency brought on by an emotional response and the physical and mental shutdown brought on by panic and fear.

The thing is, thought, that my reasons for pursing armed self-defense are pretty much 100% emotional: I don’t want to die, and I don’t want my loved ones to die either.

Emotions, when used properly, can he a powerful, powerful tool. This was brought home to me a few years ago when I trained with Gabe Suarez. He was trying to show us his techniques for shooting and moving, and I, like the good gamer I was, preferred to shoot it in an IDPA duck-walk rather than the flat-out run he wanted. I wasn’t able to muster the speed needed because I didn’t understand the need for speed in that situation.

Then Gabe pointed the frame of his Glock (not the gun, just the frame) at my face, and the reason for speeding up became much, much clearer.

Training with Gabe Suarez

As I said on-camera, having that inert hunk of plastic pointed at me put things in a whole new light. All of a sudden, I went from trying to solve the intellectual problem of absorbing what I was being taught and the physical challenge of doing the required tasks to dealing with the emotions associated with having someone trying to kill me and using thouse emotions to enhance my abliities, rather than detract from my performance.

It’s interesting that with just over 300 hours of formal training under my belt, that has been the one and only time (so far) that an instructor has brought in an element of preparing for the emotional stress of a gunfight, and I think the training community as a whole is missing out on something here. Yes, learning the physical skills needed to survive is important, as is having the intellectual firepower needed to solve problems quickly under stress, but let’s not forget that all of that starts with the will to win, thrive and survive all that might be thrown at us, and that starts with having the emotional fortitude to carry us through to victory.

A Swing And A Miss.

flinch_smallShort Barrel Shepherd has a take on the startle/flinch/response thing that merits some further discussion.

I have never been startled in real life physical confrontations or in force on force training scenarios. This is not because I am super tough or really switched on.

It’s because the encounters I’ve experienced have had a ramp-up period from observation to action. Sometimes the period is long, sometimes short, but I’ve never been startled in a fight.

And that’s been my experience as well. I’m not a professional badass, so my experience is limited at this sort of thing, but every time something did happen, there was something that set me off ahead of time that allowed me to ramp up from “Huh, that’s not right” to “Oh boy, bad things are headed my way, and fast!”. The amount of violence may have surprised me a couple of times, but there was something in the situation told me that I’d have to think fast, run fast or hit fast in order to deal with what was headed my way.

That photo over there on the right has been used in some classes to show that a flinch/startle response is natural for we primates, and therefore, we need to train that exact move into how we draw our gun.

Except what you don’t see in that picture is all the other people in the ballpark who know something is wrong, but are not throwing up their hands around their heads because, sonuvagun, they’re smart enough to realize that sort of thing is not the proper response because there is not a bat headed their way.

Yes, they were startled. No, they didn’t flinch.

How long we would have lasted on the African veldt if all the monkeys in the tribe reacted the exact same way to one of their number getting eaten by a leopard? We would have never made it out of Olduvai Gorge, and the world would have been ruled by sentient house cats, or something.

We vary our response by the nature and proximity of threats around us. Always have, always will, and your training better darn well reflect that.

Fear Leads To Anger. Anger Leads to Mogul Munching.*

Some more thoughts about the role fear plays in motivating people to protect themselves and maybe buy a gun. Yes, there is an element of fear to it, especially at the beginning. I am quite fearful of getting shot to death.


But more importantly, I was (not am, was) fearful of being helpless in the face of danger. I had no plan, and a man without a plan or the means to execute on the plan is a dead man. Fortunately, thanks to my dedication and training, things are different now. My fear of the unknown, of what we *might* do in the face of a armed home invader or other violent crime has been replaced with a confidence that helps create relaxation where before, it was impossible to relax.

It’s like learning to ski. If you look at it on the face of things, skiing is a stupid idea: You are throwing yourself down the side of a mountain on two planks of wood.
But then you do it, and you get good at it, and then you can have confidence in your ability to throw yourself down a mountain and not hurt yourself.

It doesn’t have to be training that takes away the fear. It could also be competition or well-structured range time. It does, however, need to be something that turns a gun from being something outside of your experience into something you know and understand. An unloaded gun in a box under a bed is a talisman of self-protection, more about warding off evil than it is about proficiency, and therefore it is still an object of fear.

When we first learn to drive, we are fearful of what we can do behind the wheel. We learn to conquer those fears (most of us, anyways) through repetition and experience. We face our fear of water by taking swimming lessons,  and we eliminate that fear by swimming regularly and often.

* Never did like moguls. Too jarring. I preferred pure downhill, where you go like a bat out hell for the bottom of the run.

A Single Point Of Failure Will Fail Every Time.

The Maginot Line was a marvel of modern engineering. The French military, drawing on their extensive experience getting their collective asses kicked by the German Army in both The Franco-Prussian War and World War I, decided to put an end to the pesky Hun menace by building the most fearsome system of fortifications the world had ever seen.


And they didn’t just build a thin, brittle line that would snap like a twig when pressure was put on it. They built the Maginot Line to be a miles-wide system of interconnecting forts, lookout points, barracks and supply lines that would stop the Hun dead in his tracks.

Not content to draw on just the lessons of World War I, they upgraded and added more features to the Maginot Line as the nature of the German Threat changed. The French military leaders added layers and layers of anti-tank guns and vehicle barriers to deal with the increased threat of tank assaults, and the entire line was protected from air attack by an umbrella of anti-aircraft guns all over the line.

And none of it worked. When the Germans invaded France during World War II, they did so by doing an end-run around the Maginot Line and rolling their divisions to the north, through the Low Countries and into France itself. Despite all their preparations, France was taken out the fight in World War II in just over six weeks.

  • The next time someone tells you that gear trumps preparation, remember the Maginot Line.
    It was the state of the art in defensive warfare, and it was trumped by the superior tactics of the Wehrmacht.
  • The next time you assume you’re safe because of all the preparation you’ve done, look around for your weak spots, and remember the Maginot Line.
    The defenses of the line were built on the assumption that a mechanized army would be unable to quickly pass through the thickets of the Ardennes Forest, and the Germans proved them wrong by… quickly passing their mechanized army through the thickets of the Ardennes Forest.
  • The next time somebody tells you that you don’t need to go to another firearms trainer because what they teach is “constantly evolving”, remember the Maginot line.
    It too was “constantly evolving” to meet new threats, yet it failed, and failed spectacularly. Yes, it was highly evolved and adapted itself to new threats, but it was still just one system, and it failed.

Take The Down Escalator.

My high school was not on the good side of town. We were not an athletic powerhouse, nor did I see a lot of luxury cars in the school parking lot. What I did see was a lot of low-level drug use and a bunch of losers who thought they’d lift themselves higher by putting other people down.

This was an… interesting environment for short skinny kid with glasses* to grow up in, and I soon learned that something other than fisticuffs was my key to survival in that environment. I learned to avoid the people who wanted to push others around, and when avoidance was impossible, I found that a little bit of humor and some quick thinking** prevented a beat down.

I figured out early on how to avoid the monkey dance, but in case you didn’t have the same (painful) experience growing up, Greg Ellifritz has a great article on why de-escalation is so important and he gives some excellent examples of soft words that turn away anger.

* Yes, I was a wimp growing up, and now I’m into guns. Figured that one out all by yourself, did ya, Sigmund?
** Never tell the starting left tackle on the football team that he should call himself a necrophiliac because that meant he loved to kill things. TRUST me on this.

… But Fear Itself

There’s an interesting discussion popping up on the Gun Culture 2.0 blog on the role that fear plays inside the civilian armed defender community. On the one hand, you have the experience of those who don’t carry a gun on a regular basis who are fearful of the gun itself, as if it, and not the person wielding it, is reason for violence, and on the other hand, you have people inside the gun industry using fear to market their products.

A certain amount of fear is needed to sell something that may save your life. AAA sells roadside service on the basis of keeping you safe from a flat tire on a lonely road late at night, so of course Comp-Tac is going sell holsters based on keeping your gun safe and secure until you need it.

Speaking for myself, yes, fear does play a role into why I carry a gun. One of the reasons why I started this journey was becaue there was a violent home invasion in Central Phoenix and a three year old boy was briefly kidnapped.

My oldest son was three at that time, and it brought the reality of things (literally) home to me. My wife and I were both very familiar with the neighborhood where this happened (4oth and Thomas) and while it had been going downhill for a while, it wasn’t one of Phoenix’s worst neighborhoods. We had been hearing about gang activity on the West Side and around South Mountain for years now, but we were not concerned because those were not the neighborhoods we knew about and lived in. But 40th and Thomas? I used to work in a store on that exact corner, and my wife lived a mile and a half away on the edges of Arcadia. We knew that area of Phoenix well, and that brought it home to us.

Was it fear that drove me towards becoming an armed civilian defender? Yes, that was some of what’s behind this. Knowledge, however, is fear’s Kryptonium, and knowing that I am now sufficiently trained, prepared and aware to shift the odds in my favor more than there were ten years ago removes the fear of random attack and lets me live a happier life.

This One Time, At Band Camp…

This was posted in a gun group that I belong to on Facebook.


What’s interesting is that when people commented about him escalating the situation by “yelling out the car window” his response was “I normally do that, but this time, it happened in a school zone.”

Think about that for a second. You can follow the rules 99% of the time, but that one time you don’t, you almost have to shoot someone.

“I do it all the time, but this time, I didn’t” means, well, you DON’T do it ALL the time, you make exceptions.

Was there any reason not to de-escalate here? Was he in fear for his life?

The prosecution doesn’t care about the 99 times you did it right. They will convict you on the one time you did it wrong.

It’s Not The Choreography, It’s The Stumbles.

We learn situational awareness by establishing a baseline for the environment and noticing what’s out of place. A mini van or an SUV with handicap plates idling by the front of the pharmacy is not out of place. A beat-up pickup truck or a tricked-out street racing car idling by the entrance to the pharmacy would be out of place, however, and if that happened to be at a pharmacy I was about to walk into, you are DARN RIGHT I’m not going in.

In that same way, we shoot matches because we get used to dealing with what’s out of place and unusual when we are dealing with stressful situations with a gun in our hands.

The very best thing that can happen on the stage is we do everything exactly the way we planned. As Steve Anderson is fond of saying, practical pistol is speed biased and negatively charged. This means that unless we pay attention to things, we tend to go too fast on a stage and not get our hits, and we tend to notice our screwups more than we notice what we did right.

Emptying a gun in a few seconds is not hard. Emptying a gun in a few seconds and getting your rounds on target? That’s hard. Also, noticing the screwups that happen on a stage lets us become accustomed to correcting for them as they happen and come out on top of things.

Isn’t that also what training is about?

The value of competition is when things don’t go well on the stage and we are forced to make things up on the spot, and that carries over 100% into firearms training. For example, we were doing a drill in a Combat Focus Shooting class where the instructor would call out a number from one to six, and then we’d put rounds into the corresponding number on our targets.

Except the time the instructor called out “seven”, and then things changed. Almost all the class reacted to the vocal command, but they didn’t process the data in the command until their gun was pointed at the target. The other students did not shoot competitions so they were not used to the unexpected happening on the firing line and reacted on instinct.

Me? I heard “seven”, saw that there was a “one” and a “six” on my target, added the two together, pressed out my gun and put rounds into both of them while the rest of the class stood there dumbfounded with their dicks guns out. The unexpected did not faze me, as I’d had to deal with missteps and altered plans with pretty much every stage I had shot.

We have spent thousands of years developing sports like javelin, judo, jousting, and other sports that don’t begin with a “J” to prepare our bodies for combat. Using sport as a way to prepare for war has worked for centuries, so why do we think that pistol competition are no help when it comes to pistol combatives?

Pocket Protection.

There’s some really interesting ideas in this post from 2007 by noted terrorism expert John Robb.

“Cities have long maintained centralized police forces, but gangs can often overwhelm them. Many governments are responding with militarized police: China is building a million-man paramilitary force, for example; and even in the United States, the use of SWAT teams has increased from 3,000 deployments a year in the 1980s to 50,000 a year in 2006. But militarized police may too easily become an army of occupation, and, if corrupt, as they are in Brazil, they may become enemies of the state along with the gangs.

A better solution involves local security forces, either locally recruited or bought on the marketplace (such as Blackwater), which can be powerful bulwarks against small-group terrorism. Such forces may become a vital component in our defense against bioterrorism, too, since they can enforce local containment—and since large centralized services, like the ones we have today, might actually accelerate the propagation of bioweapons. Still, if improperly established, local forces can also become rogue criminal entities, like the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia and the militias in Rio de Janeiro. Governments need to regulate them carefully.”

I agree. A decentralized threat like terrorism or other non-government violent actor demands a decentralized response. Not only does it cost less and allows for more freedom, we know it actually works. The modern smartphone is nothing if not a decentralized and networked communication device, and we have other options for staying safe in an unsafe world that don’t require an often painfully slow response from state-approved “first” responders.

More thoughts on this over at Ricochet.com.