How Much Practice is Enough?
By Martha Holschen
You may have heard it said many times, in many contexts that the path to mastery of anything takes 10,000 hours of practice. What defines practice? If you practice a technique wrong a thousand times, that technique will not magically become right. Then, to change that wrong technique to something more efficient, another two thousand hours. To cut to the chase from the philosophical generalizations, I hope to give you some practical information about developing proficiency with your handgun.
Can your practice prepare you for a life-threatening situation? Imagine yourself a mother of three, at home alone with the children. You hear someone breaking in downstairs. You gather the children as you have practiced and retreat to the safe/bed-room. You have your handgun in your hands. The intruder has come up the stairs and against your warnings, broken into the room through the locked door. Are you prepared for what needs to happen next?
In addition to basic drills for shooting, there are other skills to put on the agenda for making you a functional defensive shooter. A philosophy I have adopted is: Mental Conditioning is the most important skill you can cultivate. Mental conditioning consists of efforts to train and improve your: mindset, awareness, and decision making (specifically decision making relevant to the use of force). Next most important is to learn about the tactics which give you a greater chance of success in any use of force encounter. This includes topics such as; optimized use of cover, pieing to move through buildings, and how to minimize your exposure when entering or leaving your car. Third is to develop the skill-set needed to use the equipment you have at hand (i.e., your handgun) to the full extent of its capabilities. Fourth is to select and purchase good quality equipment. Your equipment does not have to be the most expensive available. It does have to meet your personal needs and criteria. What counts most is that you know where it is, how to use it best and can access it quickly at any given time.
First, have you had any formal training? That would be a course you paid money for (or given as a gift). Uncle Seth taking you out to the dump to shoot at some tin cans doesn’t count. You may have learned from him. You may have learned some good skills from him. But is he really an expert on defensive use of a firearm? What I want to propose here is, that the training that qualifies has at least these seven criteria:
1) The Instructor(s) have life and occupational experience from which they gained their expertise and passion (passion alone can be an illusion of wisdom) for what they teach. There is no more effective instruction out there, than what you can learn from someone of this description. They also need to have personal skills well above the level they teach. Also, how long have they been teaching? Teaching skills grow over time too.
2) The teaching/learning environment was conducive to your learning new skills. When you feel safe in class and get help when needed, the learning experience stays with you. You also don’t have to worry about someone else there being unsafe.
3) You can recall the skills taught with enough accuracy and be able to at least describe them to someone else. This is a great way to test what you actually learned. Ideally you will end the class with some confidence that you can continue to practice and improve on your own.
4) Do they cover skill sets that address your personal limitations? Do they help you discern what they are?
5) Do they cover legalities for the civilian concealed carry public?
6) Do they teach defensive tactics for civilians? There are instructors with police and military backgrounds who do not teach this. They cannot translate military or SWAT assault techniques into skills that you might find helpful in protecting your home, for instance.
7) Do they have a cohesive doctrine that puts all the pieces together to make everything fit hand in glove? For example, does moving the gun from the ready position to the target reinforce the path of moving the gun from the holstered position to the target, and vice versa.
You will need to shop around for those great instructors and training facilities. Do not rely upon what their devoted followers have to say. There are surprisingly, several cult-like groups around a few of these schools. It may involve a trip to that location. It’s a worthwhile investment! For those of you in the Seattle area, you have the good fortune to have one of the world-class training companies in the area (InSights Training Center.) Other local training companies invite guest trainers of the same caliber to teach in the area each year. If you do not want to fork out large sums of money for two-four day courses, some of the local ranges (like West Coast Armory North) offer classes in three to four hour sessions. We have a Handgun 101 class in which you can sample several different models of handguns and learn what to look for in a defensive handgun. If you already own a handgun and want to focus on fundamental handgun skills, we offer our Handgun 102 course.
Once you have a good quality skill set to build upon, then comes putting in the time for regular practice. The best practice time you can invest in is free! It requires just five to ten minute intervals dispersed over the course of your busy day. There are a few things necessary for this practice to happen. You need a place where you know you won’t be interrupted for those five to ten minutes, that also has a safe backstop to aim at (see Universal Firearms Handling Rules). What you will do for those minutes is the dry-fire practice drills covered in your excellent training. These drills can be found described in many places. I have read about, and heard others tell of how they did nothing but dry-fire practice for several critical weeks/months prior to some important competition and went on to win first place.
(Check out Olympic Gold Medalist Keith Sanderson discussing his dry fire practice here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=620LlSK3Oyo)
This is proof enough for me! But don’t take my word for it… go to the range and shoot a set sequence/drill that you can repeat later (save the target); then go home and do nothing but dry-fire practice for four weeks. Then go back to the range and shoot the sequence/drill you did before and compare your groups. I guarantee you will see an improvement. I can also guarantee that you will gain confidence in your gun handling skills. An additional benefit I have found is akin to taking time for meditation; no kidding. I take a break from whatever is keeping me busy, spend some time doing dry-fire drills; then I can get back to work refreshed and focused. Can’t beat that! OK, you could meditate. However, dry-fire practice accomplishes more.
Next comes actual time at the range doing live-fire practice. This is best done with reservation. This may seem counter-intuitive. The Dry-fire practice should be at least 70% of your total time spent training. Ammo costs also need to be figured into the budget. As you may have read elsewhere on our web site, there are options for getting in practice that you can do in the company of others with like-minded intent. This seems especially appealing for women new to the shooting world. You may find groups that just like to practice defensive shooting drills. Some may want to add some friendly competition to the mix. There are others that set up action shooting drills based on standards from various shooting associations. These drills are variations of what they use for matches, for those who may want to do the drills for fun, but may not necessarily compete. Competitors may even show up for practice. There is usually something for every level of skills. Check with your local range to see what is offered. We have folks willing to travel a bit further to come to events at our range. The point is to put in time effectively building your skills. Putting a target at ten yards and poking holes in it as fast as you can, may be fun, but it does not count as practicing defensive skills. Again, that excellent training will be the resource for those practice drills. There are also many resources online. Warning! Not everything you read is applicable to defensive shooting. Many shooting competitions use specialized guns and skill sets not appropriate for personal defensive tactics. There are also organizations with official sounding names that put out information one could most kindly deem skewed. I will list some reliable references at the end for you to investigate what works best for you.
All said and done, making this part of your lifestyle is the bottom line to being as prepared as you can for personal defense measures. Many women come to our classes because they have been the victim of an assault or were threatened. They refuse to be victims (again). My hat is off to them. I just recently saw a video through Facebook of a woman who survived two terrible assaults. She now carries with confidence. She was willing to share her story to the world to empower more women to make this choice. For every one of those kinds of stories, there are 100 or more of women who were not so fortunate. I hope what you have read here makes this process seem more doable for you. Yes, it involves a commitment. You will find more and more women willing to take those first steps. We can team together to keep the process going, so you too can carry with confidence. I pray every day to never have to draw my handgun in self-defense. My first choice is to not be where there is a problem. I can say with confidence that I can run if I need to; having recovered from serious leg injuries. Whatever your level of fitness now, can you include exercise to your skill-set acquisition? Not every woman has the option to run; all the more reason to have the best possible plan for your situation.
“In The Gravest Extreme: The Role of the Firearm in Personal Protection”
By Massad Ayoob
“The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence”
By Gavin de Becker
“Strong On Defense”
By Sanford Strong