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Speed in Practice; Speed in a Fight

“If you know you’re going to fight in a mudhole, go find a mudhole and train in it.”

I think this tenet first came to mind about 15 years ago. I was assisting with some Tactical Medic training in Alaska; it was mid-November and we were in Anchorage. It was cold! The warmest it got during the two weeks we were there was 330 and much of the training was conducted outside or in total darkness. There was some discussion among the students as to why we were making things so hard on them. Some of the students (all military) had been deployed but a large majority had not.

The difference in mindset between the two groups was significant. The old timers went with the flow while the younger group seemed a little more resistant to ‘get in the game’. When we taught a new skill, the instructors made sure everyone was doing things correctly (suturing, airways, chest decompressions, etc.). This was done in a classroom environment with several skilled instructors present. However, there were several exercises, during which the students were expected to perform as they would in a real-world situation. Overall, even with the new skills, everyone performed well.

Like the above-mentioned skills, shooting a firearm is not an innate skill - we were not born with the instinctive ability to shoot a handgun. We had to learn the skills necessary to shoot quickly and accurately. Since most carry a handgun for self-protection, the ability to engage a threat quickly and decisively are obviously important proficiencies that must be mastered.

So, what is the magic formula that will give you both the necessary speed and accuracy to be successful in a gunfight? In a recent post, Coach Tony Blauer asked:

“What speed do you need to train at to really stress inoculate for real life? Well, this shouldn't come as a surprise, you need to be training at real speed.”

But, while ‘High Speed, Low Drag’ training can be fun and exhilarating, it is not the best way to initially learn a new skill. I’m sure most are familiar with the saying, ‘Slow is smooth, smooth is fast’, but do you know what it actually means? According to one author it means:

“Practice slowly so that the correct motor patterns are ingrained (myelination[1]). And perhaps equally importantly, execute "slowly", that is to say, don't rush. Pushing your nervous system to perform faster than it's trained to will simply cause you to fumble what you're doing, and the end result is that your rushed performance is slower than if you had attempted a measured cadence in the first place.”

In other words, if you practice the skill incorrectly, you become exceptionally good at doing it wrong.

I have found both in teaching the martial arts and firearms, many want to move on too quickly – beyond their abilities – and wind up suffering in the long term because they didn’t have a firm grasp of the fundamentals. They wanted to kick/punch/shoot fast because it was fun, and they avoided performing the techniques slowly with emphasis on proper form. Instead, they opted for speed and flash at the expense of power and efficiency. Those who fall into this category quickly become bored because they fail to show any significant improvement over the long term.

The same author above states:

“On the rare occasions that I've worked closely with high performers, be they artists or athletes or academics, I've noticed that they are all slow. The skilled artists never rush through their warmup exercises. The athletes are patient with their bodies. The academics will spend ten minutes on a task that might take me two minutes, because they're doing things like checking for consistency, giving themselves time to think things through and notice irregularities, and perhaps even formatting a table or graph to look nicer even if it's not necessarily ever going to be seen by anyone but themselves. The end result of all this "slowness" at the micro level is acceleration and efficiency at the macro level, and improved overall performance.

Hmmm ….

Most of us are familiar with Wyatt Earp of the ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’ fame. I think most would agree that any advice he might offer on what you needed to do in a gunfight would be sacrosanct, having survived many without a scratch. He is famous for saying:

"Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. In a gun fight... You need to take your time in a hurry."

He continues:

“When I say that I learned to take my time in a gunfight, I do not wish to be misunderstood, for the time to be taken was only that split fraction of a second that means the difference between deadly accuracy with a six-gun and a miss. It is hard to make this clear to a man who has never been in a gunfight. Perhaps I can best describe such time taking as going into action with the greatest speed of which a man's muscles are capable, but mentally unflustered by an urge to hurry or the need for complicated nervous and muscular actions which trick-shooting involves. Mentally deliberate, but muscularly faster than thought, is what I mean.”

Wyatt makes good sense but then, so does Mr. Blauer. In my experience, it seems I see the best results when I practice a new skill slowly, and ensure I am performing it correctly, before moving on to any ‘speed drills’. However, at some point, your skills have to be ‘pressure tested’ in the crucible of some type of force-on-force training. This will show the weaknesses of equipment, physical ability, technique and much more.

To get the most out of training, I believe you must first be humble. You must be able to place your ego aside and, as John Farnam says, “Try boldly and fail magnificently!” I must concur.

Go find your mud hole and start training! ‘No losses, no learning’.

[1] Authors note.


Mudhole Practice


The Director's Desk

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