In Part One of this series, I highlighted the importance of breathing slowly in a gunfight. Over-oxygenating your blood shuts down your higher brain functions and creates an adrenalin loop that limits your fine motor skills. By slowing your breathing down during a gunfight, you can avoid the worst physical and mental effects of the fight, flight or freeze response. It really is that simple. If you train to do it. Under stress. But no matter how well you maintain your physical equilibrium, you’re going to experience some odd mental effects, which can lead to a total loss of strategic thinking (i.e. an inability to fight effectively). “Tunnel vision”—a dangerous narrowing of visual focus—is the most well known. Time distortion is the most important . . .
Whenever I interview people after a shooting, I encounter two seemingly contradictory observations. “Time was moving so fast. It was over in seconds.” And “Time seemed to slow down.” Strange but true: both perceptual shifts occur at the same time.
During extreme stress, our subconscious mind is responsible for our short and long-term survival. In the short term, the subconscious takes control and “tells us” to move, duck, hide, whatever. That’s why so many gunfighters train so hard: to pre-program their subconscious minds for success. It’s also why people in gunfights report an out of body experience; their conscious mind is watching their subconscious react to stimuli.
Perceptually, this accounts for the “time moving slowly” interpretation of events. When you’re watching someone else (in this case yourself), time seems to move more slowly than if you’re experiencing the same events in “first person” mode. Time flies when you’re having fun. Not someone else. Unless you’re having fun watching them, if you know what I mean.
[Experiment: watch someone play Call of Duty and shout out when you think a minute’s passed. Play it yourself and make the same assessment.]
In the heat of battle, our subconscious mind is also forming stimulus – response patterns for future survival. Guy with hoodie equals gun equals death equals run. Stimulus – response. This process is non-linear. In other words, it’s more like a photograph than a movie.
That’s why we think time slows down in a gunfight; we became hyper-aware of small details. “I’ll never forget the sound of that dog barking.” Or “I don’t remember the name on his football jacket, but it was dark blue.” In “real life” stimuli tends to slide through our consciousness. We choose where we direct our attention. In a gunfight, stimuli chooses you.
OK, that’s the set up. Well, that and one key fact: the person controls the pace of events during a gunfight is most often the winner. Unfortunately, as a defensive shooter, you forfeit the first-mover advantage. In most cases, you’re going to be reacting to events, rather than “stimulating” them.
So it’s even more important to get ahead of the time curve—by adjusting your strategy to take advantage of temporal distortion. You do that by slowing down. I know that sounds counter-intuitive. The gunfighter who lands the best shot first is the one who’s most likely to walk away. But note: best shot.
Aside from their [minimal] shock and awe value, bullets fired at a perp or perps that miss their target are meaningless. (Unless they take out an innocent bystander; in which case you’ll have the rest of your life to contemplate their importance.) As so many shooters have claimed in the great “stopping power” debate, accuracy is the be all and end all of ending it all for the bad guy.
So here’s the thing you have to keep in mind re: time distortion. In a gunfight, “real life” is moving a LOT slower than you think it is. You have time to place your shots. Slow down and save your life. Quick digression . . .
Back in the day, I recorded hundreds of hypnosis tapes (yes, tapes). When I thought I was speaking slowly, playback revealed I was speaking at a normal pace. When I spoke really slowly, the recording played back at a medium pace. I could only create a genuinely slow delivery by speaking at a truly glacial pace.
That was in my office. When I was doing my thing in front of a large crowd or a live TV audience, the “slow is fast” perceptual distortion was ten times worse. It took tremendous conscious effort and lots of practice to synchronize perceived and objective time. It’s a lesson I relearned during yesterday’s practice session.
The rabbi is an incredibly fast shooter. In the video above, he’s firing at a distant target four times (he says three, proving that you should never tell the cops how many shots you fired). The process of staining his shirt required 28 seconds. At about fifty feet, without return fire, the rabbi winged a stationary target twice.
When I performed the same drill, I loosed five shots in under 30 seconds. One of them hit the target. After I willed myself to slow down, my five shots required 33 seconds. Four of my 9mm bullets hit center mass.
Here’s the rabbi at the same distance without hitting the dirt or rushing his shots. Six shots in 24 seconds. Two direct hits, two on target and two off the paper.
Ideally, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice accuracy for speed. In a real world gunfight, you must do exactly that. Because you’re not, really. You’re only worrying that you will. In reality, again, you have more time than you think. So, when the SHTF, time distortion gives you the opportunity to place your shots more accurately and thus, one hopes, win. BUT—
That’s true only as long as you recognize the existence of time distortion and train yourself to exploit it. This you do by putting yourself under stress and moving and shooting at a pace you think is too slow. But isn’t.
Don’t believe me? Try it on the range. Time yourself under stress (however fake) firing at a target as fast as you can (without losing control). Make note of your accuracy. Try it again slowing your pace down by [what you think is] 50 percent. Compare times and accuracy and report back. Meanwhile, how does all this “slow down” instruction stop you from freaking out in a gunfight?
Panic is a failure of belief. Put skill to one side for a moment. If you believe you don’t have the time to win a gunfight, you will panic. (Ask me about my parachute accident someday.) If you think you do have the time to do what needs doing to win a gunfight, you avoid panic and gain accuracy.
Gain accuracy and you’ll gain confidence. Gain confidence and you’ll gain self-control. Gain self-control and you’ll gain accuracy. And confidence. It’s a virtuous circle.
If you wanted a mantra to repeat during a gunfight to keep your cool, you could do a lot worse than “I have time to win. I have time to win.” Because even if you don’t, thinking you do is better than thinking that you don’t. Make sense?