Training and “Unusual Attitudes”

20121231-112334.jpgI’ve been thinking lately about the way some of us practice our defensive skills: We draw from our holster (which rides exactly at our preferred spot) with our strong hand. We aim at a target placed chest-high at a range of 7 yards or so and put our shots downrange. We re-holster carefully. Then we do it again. When we dry practice, we exercise the same skills – some of us do it until we can get a blazing fast draw, because that helps us in IDPA.

And, as far as it goes, this kind of repetition is hugely important. There’s no question that these fundamental skills do need to become automatic, actions we can perform without having to consciously think about them, because seconds count in a lethal force encounter. Sometimes tenths of a second count. And it takes hundreds or thousands of repetitions to ingrain those automatic movements.

But there’s something else I think we ought to be practicing, and I’m labeling it with an aviation term I learned recently: We need to drill our responses to “unusual attitudes” too.

In flying, an “unusual attitude” is any time the plane unexpectedly deviates from straight and level flight. Some unusual attitudes, like an unexpected climb or descent, are fairly benign if caught I time. Others, stalls and spins, can be deadly – and getting through the OODA loop quickly can be critical to survival. That’s why flight instructors drill student pilots on recovering from these unusual attitudes, so that the automatic, ingrained responses the pilot can draw on cover them as well as the routine stuff.

Consider some “unusual attitudes” we might encounter in a defensive encounter.

What if our strong side arm is disabled, or carrying our child? Have you practiced drawing from your usual concealed carry gear and position without using your strong-side arm? I did a test just now with a stopwatch, and reaching my left arm across my body to draw from a two o’clock appendix carry position takes about three times longer than my usual, well-practiced, strong-side draw. Those seconds could be the difference between survival and serious injury – or worse – in a real defensive encounter. Clearly, this is something I need to practice.

What about situations where we’re carrying our firearm in a non-usual location? If I usually carry on my body, but wardrobe or other considerations mandate purse carry in a particular situation, the odds are high that I’m going to instinctively reach for my belt if I need my gun. Kathy Jackson of Cornered Cat told me recently about a similar hesitation she noticed when she was teaching and carrying both a blue gun and a real weapon on opposite hips at the same time. She said she’d noticed herself looking down as she drew to make sure of which gun she was drawing, and this slowed her down. If you vary your carry method at all, you need to practice with each carry method you use and you need to drill yourself to orienting quickly to where your gun is.

Suppose the bad guy rushes you and, in the fight, you drop your gun on the ground. Have you practiced picking it up quickly and smoothly? Do you think that’s a situation where seconds might count? What about drawing from a holster while sitting in your car with a seatbelt around you? Drawing from inside your nightstand drawer in the dark, if that’s where you keep your gun? How about drawing while you’re lying down? Have you ever run an IDPA stage in the clothes and shoes you normally wear to work? (If your day-to-day carry gear isn’t IDPA legal, ask the folks that run your local matches if you can run the stages in that gear after a match sometime.)

It’s easy to overlook these unusual situations, but the odds are high that, if you ever have to draw your firearm in self-defense, it won’t be in an ideal situation of perfect lighting, perfect clothes, and a bad guy 20 yards away who gives you lots of time to orient yourself to what’s happening. Odds are, it’ll be in the middle of a desperate – and quick – struggle for your life, at a time and place you don’t expect. If the bad guy can catch you lying down, or wrapped in a seatbelt, or tottering in four inch heels and a tight evening dress, so much the better for him.

Practice and repetition build the kind of kinesthetic memory needed to move, quickly, when everything’s on the line and seconds count. Just make sure you’re practicing and repeating responses to these kinds of non-ideal situations too. The bad guys want to strike when you’re least ready for them, so practicing those “unusual attitude” maneuvers may well save your life.


  1. Absolutely! In addition to the “situational awareness” drills, including the awareness of nearby cover, I have my students practice something I call the “Drop and draw.” I didn’t invent it, of course, and can ‘t remember who did, but I’ve tweaked it to fit into my classes.

    Drop and draw practice

    Coming out of the grocery store one morning, I was doing my usual scan of the area, as well as identifying several things that might serve as cover if someone started shooting. I often briefly review what might constitute a threat, and what set of circumstances might require that I draw the gun that rides snug on my belt. And then I remembered another drill that I’d been taught quite some time ago, but which I had been neglected for some strange reason.

    What do you do with the stuff you are carrying?

    I try to keep my strong hand empty when I’m out of the house, and that’s well cemented in my habits now. But recently I started to carry concealed and the rig I’m using would require me to open the fanny pack with the right hand in order to draw effectively with the left. I’d need both hands clear.

    If you have something in both hands, of course, it doesn’t matter how you carry. You need to have your hands empty before you can draw a gun, and that works best even if you shoot well one handed.

    So, let’s set up a drill to train the muscle memory needed to take care of that in the least amount of time possible.

    1. Review safe “dry fire” procedure and safe gun handling rules.
    Use a simulator that fits in your holster or make sure your gun is unloaded.

    2. Load some items into a common grocery bag. A hardboiled egg will be quite effective. Hold this bag in your weak hand.

    3. Imagine a clear threat.

    4. Drop the bag and draw at the same time.
    Be very careful that you do not cross your off hand with the muzzle of the gun during this move.

    Repeat until you can drop the bag and draw without hesitation or fumbling.

    5. Add one or more bags to the load in your weak hand and repeat the drill until you draw smoothly and safely.

    6. Carry one or more bags in EACH hand and practice dropping everything all at once, drawing the gun immediately.

    Repeat until you can drop all the bags and draw quickly and safely.

    Don’t forget to create an image of the threat each time.

    The boiled egg is a good prop for this because we know instinctively that it is breakable. If you practice with a RAW egg, you would probably be even more inhibited, but that could get both expensive and messy… but it’s up to you.

    7. Practice drop and draw with keys, books, anything you might ordinarily carry when outside.

    The idea is that we are trained to hold onto things and NOT drop them, and the more fragile the object, the more this is ingrained. Without trained muscle memory, solidly connected to the possible threat that would cause you to draw, you will waste precious seconds fighting the conditioning NOT to drop things.

    • Thank you so much for posting this – it’s a great drill, and I appreciate the way you present it. I’ve tried this myself, and it’s surprisingly hard to overcome our societal conditioning against dropping things.

      Happy new year to you and your family!

  2. You are more than welcome, and I want to make sure all of your readers know that they can have a free copy of the entire book just by sending an email to mamaliberty at rtconnect dot net – replace the at and dot with appropriate symbols and eliminate the spaces. Put “self defense” in the subject line to send it to the right filter for fastest reply.

    The book, “I Am NOT A Victim” contains the story of the man I had to shoot to save my life, and all of the exercises I use to ensure that I am prepared as much as possible never to be a HELPLESS victim. 🙂

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