I was talking with John Robb, the very brilliant analyst and blogger of www.resilientcommunities.com and www.globalguerrilas.com fame, about our respective ADD. It used to be called “having diverse interests” or “polymathy,” but these days the DSM has a diagnosis for it, along with everything else in the world. My opinion was (is) that people who work in high-stress dangerous occupations develop what could be called ADD; John, who has a distinguished career as a pilot and planner in a Tier One aviation unit that ferries Tier One operators around to work, had to laugh and agree.
The ability (or attribute) of paying close attention to a variety of inputs, and the further ability to immediately focus in on a single input to the exclusion of others for a period of time is pretty useful in a dangerous and dynamic environment, whether that’s urban warfare on the ground, aerial combat, race car driving or rolling heavy with a PSD-CAT.
Or so I’ve found it, anyway. Your mileage may vary.
So in honoring my innate ADD, I think I’ll shift gears from history, background and working definitions and just share a specific training approach based on cognitive neuroscience and translated into an application that even an old airborne grunt like me can use right away.
THE TRAINING GOAL: to shift from a deeply ingrained pistol grip method to a different one.
GOAL BACKGROUND: When I first learned to shoot a pistol, I was shown the ancient “cup and saucer” technique, where the weapon was “stabilized” in the palm of the support hand, which wrapped around the bottom of the firing hand. Later on in my training evolution I was shown Cooper’s grip as part of the classic Weaver Stance, and tried to apply that, though I found (for me) that it didn’t work real well under pressure. In the 80s I had the opportunity to take some training and have discussion with the very brilliant Massad Ayoob, then of the Lethal Force Institute and now of the MAG Group (Massad Ayoob Group). Mas was the first of the big name instructors to look at what the body actually did under stress and to design a training program that would work with the way the body actually worked.
And no, he wasn’t the only one, but his work was sufficiently advanced above everyone else’s that the US Army adopted it as the “Stressfire” method back in the day.
Mas taught a “crush grip” with thumbs locked down that I loved from the first time I tried it. I was, at the time, responsible for qualifying with both a revolver and a semiauto pistol, and the grip worked for both platforms. Plus it just *felt* right (remind me, later, to come back to the importance of a kinesthetic check — “felt right” — in designing and delivering training to be used under stress).
At the time I burned many thousands of rounds a month, and continued to do so for a long time. I was very happy with the results and found the technique extremely robust under stress — especially the “immediate onset” kind. Fast forward several years and I’m recovering from colon cancer. My overall strength is seriously debilitated and I’m looking for a more efficient (i.e. not so hard) method of shooting. Along the way I spent two days training privately with one of the finest Tier One operators we have, Mr. Paul Howe of www.combatshootingandtactics.com. He was happy with my ability to qualify to his standards using my “crush grip” but showed me the “thumbs forward” grip that is the current standard among competitive and combat shooters; his thought was that it might be easier for me and that there were advantages (primarily follow up shot recovery) to that grip.
While I could shoot just fine in the new grip, under any kind of pressure (time, whatever) I reverted to the crush grip.
So why fix what ain’t broke?
Experimentation on my own validated Paul’s insights and so it seemed a worthwhile endeavor. I also use myself quite often as an experimental subject before I run something on other people.
I’m not going to delve too much into this, but neural plasticity (the ability of the brain to move certain functions around after trauma) and cross-lateral motor neuron activation (the basis of the “Edu-K” kinesthetic learning approach first validated in pre-school and kindergarten accelerated learning programs) had resulted in some interesting approaches to rehabilitation for stroke recovery victims. Stroke often leaves a survivor with weakness or loss of function on one side of the body, and so research and implementation focused on restoring function to that side of the body, which requires the transference of a skill set used on one side of the body to the other side.
You can spend a couple of days on Google Science digging through the research if you like. Me, I like to get on with it.
This approach has implications for firearms trainers and users.
1) It can be used to accelerate new learning of motor skills fine and gross when those skills must be overlaid over a previous skill set and/or experience.
2) It is a *dramatically* faster way of remediating problem shooters or learners when presented appropriately by an experienced instructor.
WHAT TO DO:
I wanted to train the skill set of utilizing a new shooting grip while under stress into my dominant and non-dominant hands (strong and other strong, for those who think that way, of which I are one) —
So I trained the left hand. Exclusively. For 21 days.
1) First I “walked” myself through the grip with my left hand. Felt how it was in my hand. The differences were highlighted because it was my left hand (I’m right dominant). So the differences had a higher “signal value” than they did on my right.
2) I marked out the difference in kinesthetic index on the weapon and my hand.
3) With a holster and mag pouch set up for left hand usage, I trained 15 minutes a day or so. The session went like this:
a. Closed eye visualization with kinesthetic recall of the feel of the weapon. Blow the visualization up full size (see previous post on controlling your internal imagery…you know how to do that, right?) and coloration. Moving at 1/5 speed, eyes closed, acquire firing grip *feeling* for kinesthetic (feels right) check. Go through presentation, eyes closed but visualizing, *feeling* your way through kinesthetic checks. At full extension, hold, open your eyes and check alignment of the weapon in your hand, the alignment of your sights with your training target. If not in alignment, adjust appropriately. Only press the trigger when everything is perfect. Repeat 5 or so times.
b. At speed, go through presentation w/eyes closed and open to check alignment and grip. Keep your visualization big and bright of perfect grip and alignment. Keep at this till you can do ten reps in a row and maintain perfect alignment each time. Again, only press the trigger on the perfect ones.
c. With pistol at whatever ready you favor, again work with your eyes closed, except moving. Not a lot, just spinning around, shifting from side to side, moving laterally or diagonally or forward. Align your weapon and open your eye to check alignment.
d. Then, eyes open and preferably while you are moving around, do a series of full speed presentations aligned with your target and press the trigger — only on the perfect ones. When you can do ten in a row, call it good and move to the final exercise.
e. Add your emotional content (fighting state access) to the presentation; in other words call up the psycho-physiological state you ideally want to be in when utilizing the weapon — if you don’t know how to call that up, on demand, and calibrate/monitor it appropriately, refer to previous posts or I’ll recap it later on. Ten perfect reps in your fighting state.
f. Finish on a good shot, and visualize big and bright the entire process.
For live fire, I’d wait 7-10 sleep cycles before I’d add that.
My own firing routine went like this (remember, left hand only):
1) Validation of the grip by firing a few strings rapid fire, not paying attention to the group on the target but watching how the weapon recoil in my hand, paying attention to the *feeling* of it and filling my visual memory banks with how the weapon looked in recoil when properly gripped with the new grip.
2) Slow presentations from the holster focusing on kinesthetics, all the way to a single shot. No more than ten reps.
3) Dry-fire same.
4) Cap and dummy drills (no more than ten) to keep me honest.
5) Full speed presentations to single shot with state access — after each shot, not string, each shot, stop, replay the movie of what I’d just done, check out my alignment and psycho-physiological state, adjust appropriately, drive on with the mission. No more than ten
6)In the next string, finish on what felt to be the perfect shot — might be the first, might be the 8th, don’t do more than ten.
7) Run through the visualization again.
8) At night before you go to sleep, visualize the entire sequence.
Amp up as appropriate for your skill level/end use — work towards a full speed presentation against the clock with whatever stressors you can get — role players, sound, heat, time, physical exhaustion, whatever — you can figure it out.
After 21 days I switched to the right hand and holster.
In 100 full speed/full state access presentations I had 3 failures to maintain the “new grip” i.e. I reverted to the crush grip. Within two days I eliminated those reversions by going back and forth between left and right.
This added up to 15 minutes dry fire daily and about a half-hour/45 minutes shooting three times over 21 days. Left hand only. So about 6-8 hours of training the non-dominant hand over 21 days resulting in 97% transference to the dominant hand, and then 100% within 2-3 more hours focused attention.
This was, by the way, just my first informal experiment as I am no scientist nor do I claim to be one. I’ve managed to take that time frame down quite a bit and, with new shooters, get some pretty dramatic remediation and results through this approach.
“This isn’t safe!” Bullshit.
“Where’s the study for this!” Go read the research and synthesize it. Or else mount a study yourself.
“Does this actually work in the world?” Yep. With the experienced *and* novice shooters I’ve worked with, a great many who’ve tested their skill retention on the two-way three-dimension range.
“I thought you weren’t a firearms instructor?” I’m not. This is a training method that can be utilized in firearms training. I facilitate learning experiences and sometimes I use guns to help people have experiences (grin) — sometimes good, sometimes bad. I like working with guns because I was an armed professional for a very long time, I like to shoot, and you can quantify results with firearms. You can measure speed, accuracy, length of training and combat (real-world) performance if you train with the right people.
“Can I do this?” I encourage you to go out and experiment with it. Feel free to report back your success or any difficulties if you want help.
And yes, it did take about twenty times longer to write this out than to actually coach/facilitate it in real-time.