This is an article I wrote a while ago for CNJFO. I thought it would be apropos to this thread.
TL:DR - train and practice before you need the skills
Thoughts on learning to defend yourself with a firearm.
Following a recent post on Facebook (which the powers that be decided to shut down) I was asked if the reply I posted to that post could be used in a CNJFO article. I offered to expand on what I posted and here it is.
The post raised the question of whether the discussion of the fine detail of when/where/what deadly force could be used in self defense was worth the time being spent on it. It is fair to assume many of the newer members of the firearm owning community (and many of the more established members, most likely) have not taken the time to develop the skills to effectively deliver the deadly force being discussed making the discussion largely moot. Firing the legally perfect shot and missing does nobody any good at all.
A key aspect is that you are completely familiar with your chosen tool (whatever firearm you deem to be appropriate to your situation) so that you will carry out any manipulations without having to think about it.
If you're experiencing a break in you have a boat load of things to process through your OODA loop. If you must delay the completion of that thought process to figure out how to operate your gun, you are at a huge disadvantage. You are already in a reactive mode, not proactive so you are starting on the back foot. You have the opportunity to remove one of the obstacles to a successful outcome by taking the time to train and practice with your firearm in advance.
Let’s break that paragraph down a little. What is an OODA loop? An Air Force Colonel named John Boyd came up with the concept to describe the mental work you must do to react in a tactical situation. OODA is an acronym – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
1. Observe: You must first observe the thing you need to react to – obvious right? You cannot react to something that you do not know about.
2. Orient: This perhaps less obvious. You must orient the observed object or action in your understanding of the world around you. Seeing a man with a large knife in a Hibachi restaurant is perhaps no big deal. The picture changes somewhat if you are in the launderette.
3. Decide: Having digested the information from the previous two steps you need to decide what, if anything, you are going to do. Yes, deciding to do nothing is still a decision. No decision can be catastrophic.
4. Act: Carry out the thing you have decided to do.
In a dynamic environment you must constantly re-evaluate the changing situation, so you are running through your OODA loop over and over again.
Col. Boyd said that to win your fight you need to complete your OODA loop before the enemy can complete theirs. You can interrupt your opponent’s OODA loop by taking some action, the more unpredictable the better. Similarly, they can disrupt your loop too and make you start over.
The human brain can only consciously think one thought at a time. With enough familiarity we can learn to carry out tasks subconsciously. We gain that familiarity through practice. Subconscious activity is always quicker than conscious activity. You instinctively act much faster than you can consciously act.
Completion of the OODA loop is the action. If it takes a long time to complete the action, there is a good chance your opponent will complete their action (and their whole OODA loop with it) before you and you just lost that step in the fight. Now you must start over again and you opponent still has the initiative.
For this discussion, let’s assume the decision was that you need to fire a shot at your opponent.
You need to become so familiar with your firearm that operating it does not significantly delay completing the last step in your loop and delivering that shot where it needs to be.
There are four stages of competence that you can progress through when gaining a practical skill and these have a huge impact on the outcome. These are:
1. Unconscious Incompetence: This is where every new shooter starts. They have no idea what they need to do and have no ability to do it. Most people move to the next stage very quickly.
2. Conscious Incompetence: You have gained some knowledge and you have a reasonable idea of what you need to do, but you have yet to develop the skills to achieve the desired result. The good news is that if you give yourself enough time to observe yourself while shooting, you can gain the skills you need by correcting your actions as you go through the repetitions of practice. (i.e. Don’t rush your shots in practice. Only go as fast as you can think). You know the fundamentals of how to place your shots, you are just not very good at doing them consistently.
3. Conscious Competence: You have practiced enough to be able to carry out all the actions needed to place a shot where you need it to be when you concentrate on what you are doing. You have to think about one or more of the fundamentals to be able to pull off consistent hits, but you are making your hits.
4. Unconscious Competence: This is the goal. You can now place a shot where you need it to be without having to think about how to do it. The firearm is now an extension of yourself and placing the shot just happens after you have made your decision.
Getting to unconscious competence is how you optimize the last step in your OODA loop. You cannot do it during the fight. You must prepare before the fight begins – that is now.
Progressing from stage 1 to 2, and 2 to 3 is usually most quickly achieved by engaging a competent instructor. They can instill the knowledge you need to understand what you are trying to do and spot mistakes that you are making. A good instructor will train you on the areas you need to work on.
However, only you can put in the work to gain the skills. That means investing time on the static range to practice. It needs to be productive practice, however. There is little to be gained and much to be lost by repeating the actions when you are fatigued. You will make more mistakes and your subconscious mind will learn those mistakes. Try to limit practice sessions to no more than an hour at a time. If your range session is just not coming together on a particular day pack it up. Do not practice poor performance.
Note the difference between training and practice. Training from a good instructor is expensive (plus the cost of ammo). Practice is where you repeat the things taught by the instructor (it still costs ammo, but you are not paying the instructor for his time). Only by practicing will you make the firearm manipulations subconscious, making them much faster and freeing your conscious mind to process the change to the threat in front of you. There are also dryfire practice exercises which your instructor can teach you which will build skills without any cost apart from your time.
When you have reached conscious competence in simple marksmanship (you can hit a static target while standing still) it is time to add in some dynamic aspects. The simple truth is that an aggressor is not going to stand still while you shoot at them, and if you have any survival instincts, you will not stand still either. Moving and shooting is going to be necessary and will disrupt your ability to use the skills you have built so far. This would be a good time to seek out a good instructor who can help you learn what you need to do in a dynamic situation. Again, there is a difference between instruction and practice. You still need to invest time to build the skills.
Also consider that guns are mechanical devices and sometimes fail to operate as intended. Clearing malfunctions and getting back in the fight is also a set of skills that can be learned to the point of unconscious competence.
Inexpensive practice for dynamic shooting can be had by going to an IDPA, USPSA, ICORE and/or 3-gun match. You will get to move, shoot, use your holster and have to reload under pressure which most ranges do not allow during regular shooting. The dynamic nature of these competitions will also increase the likelihood of encountering unexpected malfunctions which you will need to clear while still “on the clock.”
Achieving unconscious competence while moving and shooting at a moving target frees the conscious mind to work on the OOD part of OODA giving you a tactical advantage.
The best news in all of this is that practicing these skills is enormous fun! (and it might just save your life)
Final thought: No matter where you are in your skill development, if your life is on the line you must try anything in your power to survive the event. Don’t be reckless, but don’t think for a moment I am saying that until you have become superbly skilled you must give up. Learning these skills improves your chance of being victorious – nothing guarantees it. May luck be on your side.