No matter how good you are on the range, it doesn’t replicate the conditions you’d face if someone was really trying to kill you. Adrenaline, faster heart rate, the complex environment of the real world, and the fact that the target isn’t made of paper, steel, or gel (and may be shooting back) all add up to reduced accuracy.
You can partially make up for this by practicing with a high heart rate (doing things like running with sandbags), or by using something non-lethal, but still painful to train against others, like Simunitions or some training simulators. But these solutions have one important thing in common: they rely on putting the most realistic memories in your brain possible.
How does this work? This video about preparing for high risk, low frequency events explains it pretty well . . .
To prepare for something you can’t really practice, you need to work with your brain. To make decisions, we rely on recognition-primed decision making, or RPDM. When you’re faced with a bad situation, your brain searches its “hard drive” looking for similar patterns in your memory for something that worked out well, and then you end up going with what works.
When you don’t have anything similar in your memories, you’re going to have a rough time of things unless you have a lot of time to think it over. Sadly, in most defensive encounters, you won’t have time to think it through.
We don’t all have the time or money to do things like sign up for Simunition shoot houses or advanced taser-like use of force simulators. Just hitting the range on a regular basis is hard enough for most of us, and if we’re not exhausted from work in both the morning and evening, we might also get some dry-fire practice. So, most of us are going to need to come up with other wayus help us put something useful in the old noggin.
Fortunately, when I was doing some research for another article, I came across a study from the Netherlands at Force Science (a website you should already have bookmarked). It’s not new, but it sheds light on something many of us are already doing in the gun community to improve our odds . . .
After an initial shooting exercise to establish a baseline, some officers were exposed to a seven-minute session during which they imagined themselves shooting with unfailing accuracy even when under the stress of an attack, while a control group merely listened to unrelated audio input.
When then exposed to a simulated gunbattle, the mental imagers consistently out-performed the others, whose targeting skills under fire tended to erode significantly from their “normal” level of accuracy.
This finding has led the researchers to recommend that imagery exercises not only be incorporated into “regular” police training and practice but that officers “use mental imagery whenever they have a spare moment” to improve their performance in what may be life-or-death situations.
How can you do this at home? It’s actually fairly easy. There are a number of YouTube channels that give you footage of self-defense encounters along with some analysis and tips.
What you do next can turn recreational video watching into useful training. Instead of just watching the video, visualize yourself in the person’s shoes doing what you should do in that situation. Ask yourself some questions . . .
- What should I do in that situation if it was me? (Fight? Run? Find cover/concealment?)
- What is legal in that situation? What’s moral in that situation?
- Are there any new skills I should be practicing on the range?
If you don’t know the answer, find reputable sources to get the answers to these questions. If you haven’t already, take a good class given. by a reputable instructor so you’ll know the basics when trying to answer these questions.
Also, do what the study above suggests and visualize yourself shooting if that’s an appropriate and legal response to such a threat. Visualizing yourself doing the things you need to do creates a memory in your mind of doing things right. That memory will pop up if you’re faced with a similar enough simulation to light those neurons up.
The more variety of situations you’re exposed to in this way, the greater the chances are you’ll be ready if such a situation were to come up in real life, so don’t just watch a few videos and call it good. This is something you can and should do regularly and it won’t cost you anything.
Don’t be afraid to search out things you’re personally most likely to run into. It’s all about having not only the data, but the right data in your memory bank. For example, if you work at a phone store or a jeweler, search for videos of store robberies to train with.
You’ve probably never heard anyone tell you this before, but go watch some YouTube now. It’ll be good for you.