What Matters – Part Four: Toolset

by: B.D. Pruitt

Toolsets tend to be the most overemphasized part of self-defense. All over the world wide web, arguments regarding equipment run rampant. This caliber or that. This brand of pistol versus that brand. This type of holster is better than that type. And, none of it is worth the bandwidth it takes up.

Regarding a shooter’s equipment – or toolset – when we see issues with equipment in training, it typically falls into one of two categories:

  1. The student is not proficient with their chosen equipment (lack of training).
  2. The student’s equipment is preventing them from performing efficiently (improper equipment).

Caliber doesn’t matter. Brand doesn’t matter. Grip angle doesn’t matter. Does the equipment run? Does it allow the shooter to perform? Those two things are pretty much the only two that matter. Does comfort matter? Only in as much as it allows or prevents the shooter from performing efficiently. How about capacity? Again, only in as much as it allows or prevents the shooter from performing.

I can understand, grudgingly, why individuals are so passionate about certain opinions when it comes to their toolset. Self-defense is a balancing act. Speed must be balanced with accuracy, power with agility, fierce violence with a calm head. Each of us places emphases on different aspects of self-defense.

There also exists the question of ‘enough.’ Is 6 rounds enough? Is the .380 enough? On and on, around the wheel of opinion we go. If there was a definitive answer to all of the questions surrounding toolsets, all of us would be carrying the same equipment. There is no definitive answer, so we have to stick to generalities. But we can get a good idea of what works and doesn’t work, even having to use general terms.

Regardless, the two primary questions we should be asking ourselves regarding our toolset is: Can I use the equipment safely and efficiently? And, does the equipment perform to an acceptable standard? If the answer to either one of those is no, then we need to either improve our proficiency, in the case of handling the equipment. Or, we need to purchase better equipment, in the case of the equipment not performing to an acceptable standard.

This is the crux of the situation however. Most shooters I see, haven’t tested their toolset. I’ve always told my students that one of the biggest benefits of attending a training class is that they will find out what equipment works for them and what equipment does not work for them. They will also find out where and how they can improve proficiency with their chosen equipment.

I’m not talking about crawling around in the mud pretending to be a Navy S.E.A.L. and trying to break your equipment in order to test it. I’m talking about using your equipment normally and repeatedly to see if it works for you. If you’re constantly flubbing the draw on your pistol, perhaps a new or different type of holster is in order. If your flashlight isn’t bright enough to illuminate a target in the dark; or it’s too bright and causes you to become disoriented, it most definitely is time for a new flashlight. Most shooters who attend training classes progress from equipment they thought would work well for them, to equipment that actually does work well for them. This is what it’s all about when it comes to our toolset.

Take caution not to fall prey to the celebrity endorsement. Just because you’re using the same brand of basketball shoes that Michael Jordan uses, that does not mean you can play basketball as well as Michael. Larry Vickers might like certain sights on his pistol, but, does Larry have the same astygmatism that you do? Does Larry have the same visual acuity that you do? Choose your own equipment based on your needs. Test your equipment under realistic circumstances for several repetitions to make sure it not only works, but works for you.

What Matters – Part Three: Skillset

by: B.D. Pruitt

We’ve started to see a disturbing trend on the training range. It involves the use of tactics and gun handling that have nothing to do with gun handling or gunfighting. We’ve taken the liberty of coining these tactics: ballistic masturbation. We’ve coined these antics thusly because, while they might make the student feel good, they really serve no purpose and aren’t productive.

For example, the triple press-check for the pistol. This is where the student draws his or her pistol, press-checks, then drops the magazine and looks at it for some reason, then re-inserts the magazine, then press-checks the pistol again, then goes into some hokey-pokey, spiritual-looking routine before re-holstering the pistol.

Or, the magazine fling-thing with the carbine. This is where the student runs the carbine dry, rotates the carbine counter-clockwise to look at the ejection port for some reason, then presses the magazine release while quickly rotating the carbine clockwise in the hopes that this antic quickly flings the magazine out of the gun while retrieving a fresh magazine from the pouch. The student then goes into a seizure-like trance-dance in order to reload the carbine.

I could certainly go on as I see new masturbatory techniques on the range continually. But, hopefully I can make my point with the above examples. Neither of which have anything to do with safely and efficiently handling a firearm.

Just as we broke down mindset into roughly three categories, we can pretty much summarize skillset in three categories – although I will add a fourth category as I think it’s probably necessary these days. Skills in your skillset can be categorize as such:

  1. Foundational
  2. Critical
  3. Ancillary

The fourth category that I want to add is: Unnecessary. I add it because it’s definitely a category the student should be thinking about when being sold any technique by an instructor. The number one question you should ask yourself when learning how to handle and operate firearms is: Is this necessary?

Foundational skills are those skills which are necessary for everyone in order to safely handle and operate a pistol, rifle, or carbine. Different firearms require somewhat different skillsets – although foundational skills tend to be very similar no matter the firearm.

Foundational skills include:

  1. Grip
  2. Sight Alignment
  3. Sight Picture
  4. Breath Control
  5. Trigger Control
  6. Follow Through

There are many other foundational skills, but, for the sake of brevity, I hope you’re starting to get the picture. If the student cannot understand and perform the above skills consistently with at least a basic level of proficiency, he or she will never be able to shoot any firearm competently.

Critical skills are those skills necessary for the shooter to perform a given task. Critical skills may differ depending on the shooter’s goal. In the interest of consistency, we will confine this essay to self-defense, just as with mindset. So, while a competition shooter might consider speed reloads a critical skill, we’ve come to learn in the world of self-defense that they are not so critical.

One of the most critical skills I stress to students on the pistol range is the ability to get the pistol out of the holster and accurate shots on target in the least amount of time possible. The student might be able to shoot half-inch groups at fifty yards. But, if it takes them five and a half seconds to draw and fire one shot on a target at seven yards, they are not performing to an acceptable standard with regards to self-defense.

Defining what skills are critical is mandatory. Training time is a very limited commodity. We must make sure we are maximizing our use of it. This means: practicing speed reloads while out on the range when we still can’t draw and hit our target at seven yards in under two seconds, is a complete waste of our limited training time.

How do we define what is a critical skill, versus and unnecessary skill? We study gunfights that have already occurred. We look at the data from those gunfights. Finally, we identify patterns that we see in gunfights. Identifying patterns can be a tricky business. Statistics are only as good as the sample size and we have to be cautious of input bias. But, if we look at large studies performed by separate researchers where certain patterns correlate, I think we’re on to something.

Ancillary skills are supportive skills that, while not necessary to perform a given task, are helpful in efficiently completing a task. These include: recoil management, calling your shots, trigger reset, and other similar skills. While these skills aren’t mandatory, a shooter who can learn and employ these skills will become a much more effective shooter.

Now let’s move to the original point of this article: unnecessary skills. Get into the habit of continually re-evaluating what you’re doing on the range. Is it necessary? Does it serve a purpose? If you feel the need to press check your pistol – I rarely do – then retract the slide, check, and be done with it. There’s no need for all the other nonsense. If your carbine runs dry, drop the magazine from the gun, retrieve a loaded one from your pouch, insert it in the carbine and send the bolt home. The hokey-pokey is not what it’s all about when it comes to reloading your gun.

What Matters – Part Two: Mindset

by: B.D. Pruitt

will: (noun) –

  1. the faculty of conscious and especially of deliberate action; the power of control the mind has over its own actions.
  2. purpose or determination, often hearty or stubborn determination

Will plays a significant role in our everyday lives. Not much happens without purpose or determination – even the determination to do nothing for the day. Every psychologist I’ve heard or read, states that happy individuals choose to be happy. In other words, happy individuals have already made the determination to have a positive mindset, even in adverse circumstances. Mindset, as it pertains to self-defense, is no different.

When it comes to self-defense, mindset can be roughly arranged into three categories:

  1. Awareness
  2. Protection
  3. Survival

Jeff Cooper summed up awareness nicely with his color code system. We teach a Counter Criminal Psychology class at Firearms University that covers mindset and awareness in depth. I won’t make this a treatise on situational awareness, so, suffice it to say that awareness is definitely a part of one’s mindset and the foundation upon which mindset is built.

Protection is the strategic part of mindset, and tends to be the most personalized aspect of one’s mindset. It includes one’s actions, demeanor, and choices. For example, most of us would not go into a known high-crime area intentionally. If we absolutely had to go into a known high-crime area, most of us (hopefully all of us) would take extra precautions to avoid trouble and prepare for trouble if it should find us.

Protection is the most personalized aspect of mindset because each one of us differs in ability and perspective. Someone who is highly trained and skilled in martial arts may not be as cautious in certain situations as someone who is not. Then again, perhaps someone is more cautious than another because of his or her skill and training. Whatever the case may be, protection is a part of the self-defense mindset.

Survival. Is it instinctive? Not necessarily. On February 2, 1998, Officer Katie Conway was assaulted by a mentally deranged lunatic who had been arrested on 17 previous occasions. Her assailant smashed a ‘boom box’ into the left side of her head and then shot her 4 times at point blank range. Officer Conway could have chosen to lie down and die. No one would have thought her weak, or a coward. We would have mourned her passing and called for justice. But Officer Conway didn’t lay down and die. She drew her pistol and shot her assailant twice in the head killing him. Officer Conway survived and recovered.

Did Katie Conway survive because of her instincts? Or, did she survive because she was tenacious, and had an ironclad will to keep fighting and survive?

  1. Awareness
  2. Protection
  3. Survival

We started this dissertation talking about mindset, skillset, and toolset. Mindset being the most important of all. Stop arguing over caliber. Stop worrying about how cool your gear looks to the other guys on the range. Start developing a mindset that will keep you out of trouble, and get you out of trouble should you find yourself in a tenuous situation. With that, you’re far ahead of the guy standing next to you with the latest wizz-bang bullet slinger.

What Matters – Part One

by: B.D. Pruitt

Too much time and energy is wasted discussing and worrying about things that don’t matter – especially in the gun universe. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a hearty debate about why the 16 gauge is superior to the 12 gauge. But, in the end, most of what is said or written doesn’t matter. In the end, it is the individual – not his equipment – that makes the difference.

We’ve all heard, read, and seen stories of individuals who beat overwhelming odds to survive precarious situations. Their survival wasn’t based on equipment. It was due to determination and tenacity. In other words – mindset.

I understand wanting to stack the odds in your favor prior to any unforeseen event. I pack an emergency kit in my car in the event that it breaks down. I also have a spare tire and jack. But, when all is said and done, it seems to me that, during any event, whether the odds were stacked in your favor or not, it is the individual that succeeds or fails.

Stop wasting time and energy debating aspects of self defense that don’t matter. Stop wasting time practicing or copying tactics that don’t matter. Warriors have known for centuries what matters.

“The final weapon is the brain, all else is supplemental.”

~John Steinbeck

  • Mindset
    • Skillset
      • Toolset

In that order…

We will cover mindset, skillset, and toolset more thoroughly in parts two, three and four of this dissertation.

Your Trigger Finger is Not a Broom

YOUR TRIGGER FINGER IS NOT A BROOM

by: B. D. Pruitt

Trigger reset – some instructors have taken to calling it “overemphasized” or “hackneyed” or “unnecessary”. Their arguments generally follow the pattern of: It’s not a necessary skill, so why spend time teaching it? Or, the student won’t remember in gunfight, so why bother? I’ve even had another instructor try to convince me that “sweeping” the trigger (we’ll get into that in a second) was faster than using trigger reset.

Let’s start from the beginning…

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the terms, we’ll define both “sweeping” the trigger, and “trigger reset”.

Trigger reset – or the concept of trigger reset – has been around for approximately 100 years. First used by rifle shooters, it allowed them to reset the trigger for a follow-up shot while keeping their sights on target. The idea is that after the weapon is fired, the shooter only allows the trigger to travel forward just far enough for it to reset the sear, thus making the weapon ready to fire again with as little trigger movement – and weapon movement – as possible.

Sweeping the trigger has been around as long as double-action revolvers. The idea being that the trigger on a double-action revolver must be completely released and then pressed again for the revolver to function properly; otherwise we end up short-stroking the trigger. Thus, we get the term, sweeping the trigger. The shooter completely presses the trigger, then lets the trigger travel forward its full extent, and then compresses the trigger again “sweeping” through its full arc of movement.

Let’s look at the arguments against using trigger reset.

Argument one: It’s unnecessary. This argument is 100% accurate. Trigger reset isn’t a necessary skill. Then again, a proper grip on the gun isn’t necessary in order to fire it either. Yet, every instructor I know teaches his or her students how to properly grip the pistol. Why? Because properly gripping the pistol makes us more effective shooters. And that’s what training is all about, isn’t it? Trigger reset is unnecessary, unless you want to become a more effective shooter. In an actual gunfight, I want to be as effective as I can possibly be. Thus, I choose to use trigger reset. More on why later…

Argument two: The stress of a gunfight will prohibit the student from remembering trigger reset. Sounds similar to the argument against using your sights in a gunfight, yes? The answer: Training. We’ve all heard the addage: “We fight how we train.” It’s a true statement. If we train to focus on the target, then we’ll focus on the target in a gunfight. Whereas, if we train to use the sights, we’ll use the sights in a gunfight. It’s no different with trigger reset.

But, Brett, we hear of police officers who say they didn’t see their sights in a gunfight! They say they don’t remember using trigger reset in a gunfight! Don’t worry, I believe the officers. The problem isn’t how they were trained. The biggest problem is the lack of training in preparing for a gunfight. Law enforcement firearms training is woefully lacking. The vast majority of officers receive about 40 hours of firearms training in the academy, and then only shoot about 200 rounds per year after that to maintain their qualification. Ladies and gentlemen, this is simply not enough to gain, nor maintain, any kind of proficiency with a firearm. Familiarity, yes. Proficiency, no.

Look, I understand agencies can’t afford to train every officer to be a Delta-Seal-Ubertactical Operator. Perhaps your budgetary constraints prohibit you from shooting 1,000 rounds per weekend, every weekend of the year too. I understand. This is the beauty of dry-fire. It’s cheap. You don’t even need a shooting range to do it. But, how many of us actually take 5-10 minutes out of our day to do it?

Moving on…

The argument that sweeping the trigger is faster than using trigger reset is absurd. More movement takes more time. Less movement takes less time. It’s as simple as that, and I won’t waste anymore space entertaining this patently false claim.

Finally…

Why do we teach trigger reset? Why do we use trigger reset? Because it allows us to shoot faster AND more accurately. Trigger finger movement induces muzzle movement. Muzzle movement induces errant shots. By minimizing muzzle movement, I’m a more accurate shooter. Furthermore, since my finger travels a shorter distance, I can shoot faster. Thus, more accuracy and faster strings of fire. And that’s what it’s all about in a gunfight.