Thursday, June 2, 2016

Muscle Memory And Training

I have a son. Actually I have several sons. But this one in particular I am always asking about his gun training. That’s the problem. He doesn’t. He carries a gun everyday but does not train with it or really shoot it very often. He has good reasons, time, a new baby, his wonderful wife, a calling in the church. Things that we all have in our lives. Now I will give him points for staying in physical shape. He does his cross-fit and is pretty consistent with that. That is where he and I differ. My physical training is lacking but my defense training is quite often. In fact, today, Thursday, I will go to the range. If it is open. We’ve had a lot of rain lately and they close the range when the dirt roads are muddy. So, anyway, my son does not practice much. I know about his training because I did the bulk of it when my kids were young. He’s had a lot of experience with guns. He’s also had some formal classes. I worry that his lack of practice time will affect his muscle memory. I know he knows the basics, but if you don’t actually do the basics, you can lose a lot of skill. That’s why I keep on him.
I know many gun owners and concealed carriers have the same problem, making time to train. When you finally get serious I also know that many are not sure what to do with their training.
Muscle memory is a powerful tool for anyone who wishes to perform well when the pressure is on, and it is an essential component of defensive readiness. But there is danger in this. You can develop muscle memory that is improper.
I want to talk about the reasons why muscle memory training is important, as well as the positive and negative effects it can have by examining combat experiences and the documented reports of those who I know have experienced combat.
The dangers of improper muscle memory or even unintentional muscle memory are often overlooked.
Often shot placement (two to the center of mass, one to the head), sight picture, and caliber don’t mean much if you can’t get your weapon out of your holster. Building muscle memory for all aspects of your weapons operations. Drawing and presenting. Using whatever safety is built into your gun. Immediate action drills for malfunctions. Combat is not an easy environment to operate in. Serious tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, and other effects of this stress must be dealt with. Not having time to deal with this is often the case in self-defense.
Being able to present your weapon fast changes the dynamic of a fight. Just the discharge of the gun, hit or miss, can change an attacker’s ability to continue the threat. It can give the defender time to maneuver for an effective second shot if needed. Remember that just because you draw and present your gun does not mean you must shoot. It’s my experience that just the sight of a gun can send an attacker packing.
Of course ability to hit what you aim at is very critical. As you built muscle memory it will always help your shooting. If you are confident in draw, and manipulation, how much better will be your aim?

Operators are known for their good shooting. Are they “just good?” They are really no different than most of us. The difference is how much practice is involved. Marine Force Recon trains to the “brilliance in the basics” standard. It’s not glamorous and is not particularly entertaining to watch, but it hones their edge to a fine sharpness. Mastering little things like grip or presentation are little things. But when you master the basics you can do more complex things like complex drills. Making things simple make things easier in training and combat since we should always train like we fight and fight like we train. You can do simple actions in a complex drill. As long as the basics are simple and “memorized” they can make it possible to do complex things like handgun to rifle transitions and other more advanced, complex things.
Muscle memory can save you but if bad habits are committed to muscle memory they can get you killed. For example, in Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s book “On Combat”, one officer recounts grabbing a pistol out of an assailant’s hands and then handing it right back to him. This bizarre action occurred because in training, the officer would always immediately handed the weapon back to his partner after he disarmed them in training. The officer fortunately survived his mistake due to the actions of his partner. Another example is in my own training. I had got into the habit of hitting the mag release when I finished shooting. There was nothing wrong with this initially. But when I was training with a fellow instructor he noticed the habit. Without saying anything he had me do a combat reload in the middle of shooting a set. I executed it and he told me to stop mid-magazine. I did and hit the release. He said “I wanted to see if you’d do it and you did! Every time you stop or pause shooting you drop your mag.” Now I only had one shot in my gun. It was not a good habit so I worked to break it. This is why it is important to not only practice simple motions, but also that you vary your training. Doing the same thing over and over again may give you chance to develop not so good habits like my mag release. Be as realistic as possible and do the basics repetitively, but change up the drills.
One experience that an operator recalls is a hectic firefight in Afghanistan. This shows the power of instinctive actions and the importance of keeping your training as realistic as possible.
Hot, dehydrated, and tired, his team came under heavy fire while moving through a canal. He returned fire with my M4A1 and almost immediately began having malfunctions. It would later be determined that their ammunition was faulty, but despite fatigue and an adrenaline response, he was able to immediately diagnose several failures to feed and correct them in order to continue engaging the enemy.
His third malfunction was a double-feed, which calls for switching ammunition sources. He had almost gotten the magazine in his drop pouch when he noticed one crucial detail; that he was using two magazines coupled together and did not need to pull a fresh one from his vest. He had never used coupled magazines during training and so his muscle memory response wasn’t an appropriate one given his change of equipment. In the span of seconds he experienced both the good side and the bad side of muscle memory during a high-stress situation.
Make your training as realistic as possible by just not taking shortcuts in your training. Don’t tuck that shirt behind your holster for convenience on the range. Don’t change the way you would normally do things if going out in public armed.
Taking a real defensive course is a good start. Your concealed carry or basic NRA course is good for starters but it is not defensive training. Taking a course helps with discipline. You won’t stop after 3 hours when a course is 6 or 8 hours. You’ll finish the course. Make sure it is good training. There are some great schools out there. I love Gunsite, the namesake of this blog. But there are also good instructors out there that can give you some good training. Seek them out and then develop your own training program. There are many good drills out there for defensive training.
Learning and practicing a defensive mindset and finding a good training regime can build muscle memory and make it easier if you ever find yourself in a real world situation. Remember simple basics. Get some good training and into a training program before you decide you need a different gun or new gear. It will be worth it in the long run when it counts.

Semper Paratus
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