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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Correct Mindset

The Correct Mindset
From The Shooting Wire
By Jim Shepard

In training, we talk about everything from how we walk, strip out a magazine, hold a rifle/pistol/carbine, and even how to adjust slings and gear. Ditto the OODA loop (and how to interrupt it), the advantage to closing on a threat rather than running away in certain situations (OK, I'm still vague on this one, but I know the unexpected action is frequently the right one, this is just a little counter-intuitive).

Fighting is, as they say, as much an art as the mechanics of its study are a science.

Last week, however, I was reminded that there's a part of the combat mindset - and preparation for dealing with a known threat- that many of us forget.

Our best weapon- in virtually any circumstance- is our mind and its correct usage to adapt and overcome in life-and-death situations. The training scenarios are, for me at least, one of the best ways to see - clearly- that on many occasions, I'm letting my natural instincts and that most immediate of drugs, adrenaline, take my mind out of the fight.

There's nothing like having that brought home to you by a world-class martial artist and trainer who looks more calm and unflappable than capable and experienced. John Hutchinson, one of Gunsite Academy's trainers, had his unflappability tested last week, trying to help me improve my shooting techniques.

I'm not a bad shooter, but I'm not practicing at the levels I once did. I'm also not at the physical skill levels of twenty years (or more) ago. So, Hutchinson reminded me, I should be applying my mind more to the fighting situations.

Having been more reactive than proactive in most physical situations, that's tough advice to comprehend.

Until you get in a situation with a little performance pressure. Standing on a line with eleven other shooters - most very experienced and trained - induces a little of that pressure. For me, that means the mind starts working against me. Instead of telling me to analyze the situation and respond in a sensible manner, I get the "ready-set-GO" thing from my brain, turning me from a logical guy into a pretty passable imitation of Jerry Lewis. The easy things get difficult, and suddenly, I'm missing shots I know I can make in my sleep.

Unfortunately, I'm too-wired to sleep. Having been in a real shooting situation, I fight old memories and matching reflexes. I don't know if it's happened to you, but I've sure seen if from both the personal and observational side.

After trying to correct me mechanically and not seeing a response, Hutchinson told me something that clarified my problem and gave me a way to instantly tighten shot groups and simplify prodedures.

"You're moving around too-much in your body," he said simply, "that's making you have to work against yourself to get a good shot off."

Eureka, he was right. I was guilty of the shooting equivalent of "moving over the ball" in golf. Instead of getting into a strong, neutral position with my rifle solid and stable in that position, I was moving head, eyes, arms, feet, knees, elbows. Let's just say I looked more like an explosion than a rational machine

I was violating the basic rule of a fluid situation: slow down physically and analyze mentally; then follow your mental mapping. It's amazing what a couple of deep, calming breaths and a solid stance will do to tighten your groups. It's even more effective when you're on the move. Strides may shorten or steps may drag, but the upper body remains still, strong and on target.

After shooting, Hutchinson reemphasized that fact by reminding us that when running indoor shooting simulations, he wanted us to concentrate on analyzing each problem individually, and to slow down rather than racing through the simulator as one large timed event.

"Err on the side of safety," Hutchinson says, "I'm going to be with you, and safety's what I want. Don't try to go high-speed, low-drag on a situation, try to make each motion deliberate and thought out. If you rush into a situation, you may find out you've put yourself in a situation you didn't anticipate."

What he didn't have to say was that in real life, those kinds of situations can get you seriously killed. After all, he reminded us, a single person clearing an unfamiliar building was already a bad enough deal. Trying to do it at the speed of Jason Stratham in an action flick was a good way not to get out the other side.

What's my point? THINK before acting in your practice. If you're on the range and suddenly start rushing shots and taking those short, sharp, jerky motions that are producing less than your optimal results, slow down and stop fighting with yourself.

That's one fight you're always going to lose. Instead, breathe, slow down and think before acting.
Now, if I could only remember to do that before I speak.

--Jim Shepherd

Has this happened to you?

I just experienced the very same mental condition!
Last week at a match I shot awful! My squade mates were watching and silently discussing my problems. They were wondering what they could do to help!

One friend noticed a magazine problem, or so he thought. Another noticed I was 'out of sync' with my pistol. Finally, we hit upon the culprit!

I had installed a long SV trigger in my Colt XSE to prevent me from inserting my trigger finger too far into the trigger guard, (an old habit from my revolver days!).

No one considered - not even me - that I was riding the trigger, and not allowing the sear to reset! A simple, fundamental, mental error!
But that was the problem.

So... Jim is quite correct.
Examine your mindset each time you train. Take nothing for granted.
Even us old timers forget stuff that has long been basic habit.

Thanks Jim!

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