What Should I be Doing at the Range?
Students often ask us the above question, particularly after a lesson or a class. We give “homework” to our students, providing practice drills and suggesting areas to work on at the range. Simply blasting holes in targets is not training. The most important skill for the defensive shooter to focus on is mindset: mindset with visualization. The shooter needs to enter the range and train as if his or her life depended on it. Think about why you are performing each action and ensure that it translates into the real world. Your training and practice must have a purpose that is worth reverting to when under stress. As your skills increase, you will begin building stress inoculation, even if by yourself.
Once the foundation is set, it is time to move on to mastering advanced techniques involving one hand, shoot-don’t-shoot, and moving and utilizing cover. Unfortunately, many ranges do not allow such practice. Seek out a competent instructor and class to practice such skills. A good instructor will ensure you understand the skills taught before putting the student under too much stress. The act of performing in front of a class and instructor is often stressful for many students. Remember, you must crawl before you can walk, and walk before you run.
Back to the proper mindset: mentally prepare before shooting any exercise. Visualize and imagine a scenario that could happen to you at home or at work. Do not lose sight that you not only must survive, but also win the fight! Imagine the drill you are going to run, and visualize the simple things such as your draw and presentation, your gun manipulations, and checking your back after the engagement. If you do it correctly, you can put yourself under stress by imagining it beforehand to check your performance. You will remember these practice scenarios running through your head and can draw on them if needed in a real defensive situation.
Another aspect to proper training is the physical nature of self-defense. You do not have to be in triathlon shape, but possessing the ability to run and move is important. So is the knowledge of what your body’ natural reactions are to high stress and working around it or with it. Tunnel vision and threat focus is why we have our students scan after the threat is down. Auditory exclusion can help preserve our hearing later, but remember to shout commands to loved ones or innocent bystanders. Remembering to breathe while in a fight might sound silly to the uninitiated, but our rates will climb and it will become difficult to make good decisions without oxygen. Our gross motor skills will deteriorate rapidly under high stress. This is why we stress the importance of using gross or large muscle groups as much as possible while running our guns.
When things go pear shaped, will you be ready? It’s not the “if” that you are prepping for, but the “when”. You will not have the luxury of learning how to fight when in a real confrontation. These skills do not occur after taking a couple of classes or training every other month. You must do something every day: Visualization, playing the “what if” game, dry fire, and live fire. Train as if your life depended on it. Train until it becomes second nature. Develop the mindset and techniques to deal with and overcome the threat.