Gunfighter Trifecta Series Part 2: Skillset
November 1, 2017 By JT Timmons, Tactical Instructor
In the first of the three-part series called the "Gunfighter's Tri-Fecta", we covered the MINDSET of a gunfighter. In this edition, we will cover the next important attribute - the SKILLSET of a gunfighter. Please remember, this is not a comprehensive curriculum. It is only a brief overview of what I feel are the important "big picture" ideas that every person should consider if he carries a firearm and understands that he may have to use it to shoot another human being. This article is written with the intention of prompting readers to further study the deep subject of preparing oneself to be a responsible guntoter.
Although a person's skills are developed and controlled in the brain, the process of acquiring physical skills is not a mental act. It requires a physical act. I believe that this is a very important thing to understand, and it is something that many people completely misunderstand or deny. The misunderstanding that I speak of is this: MANY people who believe that because they have a conscious or an analytical understanding of how to perform a physical act, they also have the skill. This is not the case. The mental understanding of a skill or being a "subject matter expert" of a skill does not equal having the skill. There are many more people who can thoroughly explain to others how to do something than there are who can actually do it. If you don't believe this, go read the information disseminated on gun forums and then go to the range and watch those same people shoot. It will soon become embarrassingly evident that even when one can intelligently discuss all of the intricacies off a skillset, it absolutely does not equate to being able to perform the physical act on the same level about which it can be spoken. So, I say all of that to propose this - owning a skill means that you can physically perform the act without giving it conscious thought. Your subconscious controls your body and guides it while you carry out the physical act. No conscious or analytical thinking is required or wanted.
I think that we all agree if you carry a firearm - whether for duty or self-defense you are using it to prevent another person from harming you or others. This means that you have to use your weapon decisively and skillfully. Skill with a firearm generally means two things - speed and accuracy. Speed with a firearm means multiple things: speed in getting the pistol into your hand from its holster, speed in aiming, speed in pulling the trigger, speed in reloading and speed in clearing malfunctions. Accuracy means being able to hit your intended target with an acceptable level of precision for each individual shot. This "acceptable level of precision" varies from situation to situation, and being able to judge what level of accuracy is required for each shot is also a skill. In other words, every shot does not require a bullseye level of accuracy, and it is a skill to be able to appropriately judge how much accuracy is required for each shot in a timely fashion.
This article is about how to acquire the physical skills so that you can carry them out without conscious thought having to guide you through the actions. If you find yourself in a gunfight and have to "think" yourself through it instead of immediately act, you are not going to fare well. It can be a very in depth subject if a person chooses to study the science of learning. But it is not necessary. Doctors and sports scientists have already done the hard work. All we have to do is understand some very basic principles so that we can make use of their information and train our brain to react exactly how we want it to react when stimulated to do so.
Developing physical skill with a firearm - or any other activity for that matter - means that an "information highway" or scientifically called a "neural pathway" in your brain has been made. After this neural pathway has been established in the brain, concentrated repetition insulates the pathway with a fatty tissue called myelin. When you see a person who can skillfully play a musical instrument at a very high rate of speed without even looking at the keyboard or fretboard, it means that they have established this neural pathway and "myelinated" or insulated it in their brain. When I teach shooting classes, I illustrate this with the analogy of making a pathway in the woods (the brain). The first time that the information attempts to go down the neural pathway, there is no clearly established route and it has not been myelinated, so the travel is slow and interrupted. As the information travels the EXACT SAME route, it develops a more established and insulated neural pathway each time, just like a pathway in the woods that becomes more established and smoother as it is traveled. The words EXACT SAME are critical to understand. Everyone has heard the old adage "practice makes perfect", but that is not necessarily true. The adage that is absolutely true is "perfect practice makes perfect". What this means is that the practice is EXACTLY THE SAME for every repetition of the specific skill that is being practiced. You must duplicate the exact route (neural pathway) in the brain every time that you perform the act if you want the information pathway and myelination to get firmly established. If you do not practice each skill with methodical precision, the pathway will not get developed and the resulting physical skill will be sloppy and unpredictable.
How do we carry out this "perfect practice makes perfect" concept? It is accomplished through consistent, methodical repetition. Just as a piano or guitar player learns to make precise chords and notes, we start off at a very slow but deliberate pace. Just going slow is not enough. It must be slow with very precise and focused movement. The movements should not be robotic but do not sacrifice precision for speed at this point. Break each movement down to the "smallest achievable perfection". For example, if your draw consists of 4 individual movements, you slowly and methodically practice each of the 4 movements individually and you master each movement one at a time. After each of the 4 movements of the draw has been thoroughly practiced enough to create the myelinated neural pathway in the brain, the subconscious brain puts each of the individual movements together and then you can practice the complete, smooth, fast draw with each step of the draw being as perfect as your practice of it was. The "neural pathway" in the subconscious started as a dense, difficult route that was slow and bumpy. But with hundreds and into thousands of repetitions, the once dense pathway will develop into a well insulated information superhighway in your brain where signals can travel at top speed and with precision. This is the level of skill that is required. Practice doesn't make perfect.... only perfect practice makes perfect.
In the next edition of the "Gunfighter's Tri-Fecta", we will discuss the gunfighter's "toolset". Stay tune in to the next GTI Legion newsletter to read about some things we need to consider when arming ourselves to be responsible guntoters. Until then, get to the range and get in some repetitions of perfect practice! JT