“The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken,” lexicographer Samuel Johnson observed. When it comes to defensive gun use, this can be a bad, bad thing. If shooting at a “square range” has given you the habit of standing still while firing you might be caught flat-footed in a defensive gun use. And die. Of course, good firearms-related habits can save your life. Like . . . carrying a gun. The trick is to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and don’t mess with Mr. In-Between. To that end, here are three little-discussed effective habits of successful armed self-defenders. Good good guys . . .
1. Identify the negative
Some people call them “training scars.” I call them bad habits born of inappropriate repetition. As Mr. Johnson pointed out above, it’s incredibly easy to pick up bad habits. Slapping the trigger [as above] is but one maybe obvious example. Here’s one from recent experience . . .
The other day, answering nature’s call, I removed my Wilson from its holster and dropped my drawers. I found myself pushing the frame-mounted safety up. I’d developed this bad habit after a previous visit to the smallest room in the house, when I’d discovered that the frame-mounted safety was off. (How’d that happen?) I’d taken to flipping the safety up to make sure it was on whenever I unholstered my firearm.
I was training myself to push up the safety when drawing. Not good. Luckily, I caught myself making this mistake and corrected it. I now push the safety down, then up again. But not immediately. I do so after a suitable pause for reflection. Otherwise, the up/down motion would become a bad habit. See how that works?
The “train as you mean to fight” mantra is in operation whether you know it or not. And it’s all-inclusive. That’s why I don’t use magazine re-loaders at the gun range. I don’t fire every time I bring my sights on target. I don’t shoot my gun dry every time. I don’t just practice at square ranges. Etc.
There are three keys to detecting bad habits. First, ask someone; it’s impossible to know what you don’t know. Find a trainer or gun guru whose work you respect and show him what you do when you do that voodoo that you do so well (or not). I simply ask them “what am I doing wrong?” Humility is your friend.
Second, become self-aware. Slow down and think about what you’re doing whenever and wherever you handle a handgun. What am I doing, exactly? Is this the best way to do it? Ask yourself the crucial question: what could possibly go wrong? Could I do this under stress? Would I do this under stress?
Yes, there is that.
In the video above, David Kenik advises viewers not to use the slide stop as a slide release; fingers turn to flippers under stress. Which is why highly effective armed self-defenders stress-test their techniques. So should you. How? Competition can create bad defensive gun use habits, but it stress-tests good habits like sight alignment. Force-on-force training may not use your actual gun, but it’s easier to find, cheaper and stress-tests defensive gun use strategy.
2. Eliminate the negative
I love training newbies. I make sure that they observe gun safety protocols, grip the gun properly, assume a proper stance and master the fine art of the trigger pull. In doing so I save everyone a lot of time and money. Truth be told, correcting a bad habit is a bitch. But it must be done.
Once you’ve ID’ed a bad habit (e.g., jerking the trigger) you have to expend a lot of effort to eliminate it. Especially mental effort. Slow down as much as humanly and practically possible and consciously think about what you’re doing. Before you do it. Close your eyes and visualize the new, improved technique before you start. Do it. Stop. Go through the whole procedure again.
The general rule of thumb: it takes 1000 rounds to replace a bad habit with a new one. Yup. A thousand.
When you think you’ve got the new habit locked in – around 500 rounds or so – speed-up to see if the new habit’s taken. The new habit may not have been planted in your subconscious mind. You may revert to prior training. Again, stress test your defensive gun use habits as often and as best you can. If the bad habit persists, it’s wash rinse and repeat.
One more thing: highly effective armed self-defenders address one bad habit at a time. Trying to correct your grip and stance at the same time, for example, will do little to fix either. Habit modification is beast as a single-minded process. Acknowledge and respect your limitations.
3. Accentuate the positive
In a recent Question of the Day, I acknowledged a simple fact: most people don’t train on a regular basis. Take it from a man who reads more defensive gun use stories online than you have hot dinners: an armed self-defender can be effective without any training whatsoever. But to be highly effective, there’s no substitute for regular practice.
It’s that last part – regular training – that matters most. If you don’t have the time or money to go the range on a weekly basis, that’s OK. Go on a monthly basis. Or as often as you can. Dry firing a triple safety-checked firearm (with the ammo removed from the room) at home is a suitable maybe even preferable alternative to range time. There’s no reason you can’t do both. Many experienced People of the Gun book yearly training sessions at schools they like. Good idea.
Plan your practice. Sure, it’s fun to shoot for fun. If that’s what you’re after, maintain form and have at it. If you want to be an effective armed self-defender go the range with a plan and a purpose. A purpose. Singular. Today I’m going to practice accuracy. Today I’m going to practice double taps. Today I’m going to practice long distance shooting. Like that.
That said, it helps to start with a warm-up ritual. I always start my practice sessions by slow-firing at a blank target at three to five yards (maximum). I try to put the bullet through the same hole, wherever that first hole may be. Once I’m confident that I’ve got my grip, stance, breathing and trigger control down, I proceed to the day’s lesson.
No matter what gun handling or shooting skills you acquire you may never be a Chris Costa or a David Kenik. That doesn’t matter. Your goal is to be the best armed self-defender you can be. To be ready to defend your life and other innocent life when needs be, as best you can. You never know, but with a bit of luck, it might be enough.