Thursday, September 24, 2009

Less Than Optimal

I was listening to the podcast Michael Bane posted last week, and he touched on a topic that intrigued me. He talked about how most of our training and almost all of our match shooting is done in near optimal conditions, but that most self defense situations happen in much less than optimal – for us – situations.

He started off by talking about an Olympic runner he had interviewed years ago who had just come off a long distance training run. She wasn’t feeling well because it was her time of month, but she had trained anyway. When Michael asked her why, she replied they wouldn’t put the Olympics on hold because she wasn’t at the top of her game. She commented that she would need to be ready to compete regardless of how she felt that day, so she needed to train to be able to perform at the top of her game, even when she wasn’t feeling her best. In other words, when conditions were less than optimal for her.

Similarly, if we find ourselves in a circumstance where we have to defend ourselves or our loved ones, we won’t have the option of saying, “not now, I’m not feeling all that well today.” An attacker isn’t going to put his attack on hold just because you’re not feeling as up to defending yourself as you would like to be. On the contrary, he’ll probably be more than happy that you're not as up to the task as you could be. In fact, he’ll probably do everything he can to gain advantage for himself and ensure your circumstances are as far from optimal as he can manage. He'll try to make things optimal for him while making them less than optimal for you.

To make this even worse, many of us may not equip ourselves as well as we should and, as Michael said, most of us do most of our training in near optimal conditions…if we train at all.

If we train at all. Think about this statement for a bit. The extent to which most CCW holders train is to punch a few holes in a bull’s-eye targets at the local indoor range or bounce a few tin cans around when they’re out in the boonies. This isn’t very practical training for self defense because it doesn’t put them under stress or exercise most of the skills they’ll need in a real defensive situation. And many don't even do this minimal amount of training.

Even those of us who do engage in “practical” training, usually do it on bright, sunshiny days when we're not feeling like something the dog dragged in, when we know exactly what the “start signal” is, know exactly what we’re supposed to do, and know how we're going to be scored or evaluated. We’re also geared up with just the right gun, holster, magazine pouch, spare magazines, and other gear needed for the training drill. In other words, we’re primed and ready to go. Pretty much as close to optimal as you’re going to get outside a video game.

Contrast this with a trip to the local Seven-Eleven to get a jug of milk when you’re dressed in shorts and flip flops, and you’re drowsy because your wife just woke you up from dozing in front of the TV. It’s dark outside because you put off going to the store until just before it’s time to go to bed, and your only armament is the five-shot .38 revolver you dropped in your pocket before running out the door. Are you in the best circumstance to fend off an attack? Probably not.

In addition to not being physically at your best, you’ve also put yourself at a distinct disadvantage because of how you’re equipped. How often do you train while wearing flop flops and carrying only a five-shot revolver with no reloads? Did you remember to bring that wiz-bang tactical flashlight you train with, or is it sitting at home in your range bag? Have you equipped yourself “optimally” to meet an attack? Probably not.

So, what can you do to help remedy this situation? Well, first off, you could probably equip yourself a little bit better before leaving the house. I’m not really going to get into that here, because that’s fodder for another article (stay tuned). However, you can train with what you actually do equip yourself with for these kinds of situations. If you carry that little five-shot revolver, train with it.

Ok, so let’s talk about training. It would seem to me the first thing we need to do is identify the situations you may find yourself in that may be less than optimal. In training, we may not be able to simulate feeling physically ill very well, but we can do things like train from awkward positions, train while our dominant arm is disabled, train without prescription glasses (for those of us who wear them), train with the dominant eye covered, train in low light situations, train while simulating equipment malfunctions, and a number of other variations that could put us in less than optimal circumstances.

So, specifically what actions do we need to be able to perform in less than optimal circumstances? In Michael Bane’s podcast he talks about this in the context of cave diving. He talks about identifying the core set of actions we need to be able to perform in any circumstances in order to survive. In the context of a deadly force encounter, it’s very much the same thing. So, what is the core set of actions we need to be able to perform in a self defense situation? If we’re going to employ a gun as a major part of our self defense system, we should be able to deploy it from wherever it’s carried in an expeditious fashion. We should be able to bring it to bear on the threat and accurately place multiple shots where we want them very quickly. We should be able to do both of these things from awkward positions, with either hand, using either eye, and without corrective lenses, we should be able to do this both in daylight and when it’s dark. Is this all we need to be able to do? No! What if the gun malfunctions or if you cannot use it at all. Do you have plan B? Do you have the things with you you’ll need in order to execute plan B? Do you have the skill sets you’ll need to make plan B work? Have you practiced plan B to see if it will work?

Do I have the answers to all the questions this issue brings to mind? No, I don’t even know what all the questions should be at this point, but I’m working on it. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit since listening to Michael’s podcast last week. If you carry a gun for self defense, you probably should be thinking about it too. We’re going to be addressing some of this at the Utah Polite Society events over the next few months. If you’d like to help with this, come join us. Our events are held the first Saturday of each month and start at 8:30 in the morning at Hendricksen Range in Parleys Canyon east of Salt Lake City.

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