Survival at What Cost?

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I was reading a blog post recently that talked about the gap between the “feel-good” messages some self-defense instructors teach and the on-the-ground reality of violence. There’s lots of goodness there, but I wanted to pick up on one particular lesson today.

The author writes, in part:

…[Y]ou say…that we can prevail, and you’re teaching us stuff that we ought to be able to work, stuff that some of us can do here and now. And I think that’s great, but here there are no consequences to messing it up. If I fumble my joint lock or don’t punch hard enough it won’t mean a difference between life and death. You are telling us nothing about risk avoidance or damage control. You are telling us nothing about how to pick our battles and when to admit defeat. With you it’s just fighting until victory or death.

There’s more there, and I’ll let you read it, but this is the point I’d like to talk about: You can do everything right, practice situationall awareness and avoid going to “stupid places with stupid people” and deploy your unarmed defensive skills and even your weapon. You might do all that and still lose the fight. And you need to be ready for that eventuality, and you need to have made some decisions about that situation ahead of time.

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Lessons From CCW Class

Shooting Qual XD9 (100 pct)I had occasion to take a CCW training class recently from a local instructor. It was an interesting and, in some ways, eye-opening experience.

The classroom portion of the course was about 6 hours, and the instructor did a good job of covering the basics you’d expect: Gun safety, the laws regarding the justifiable use of deadly force, and a very bare-bones overview of some tactics (like the difference between cover and concealment). Honestly, the only part of the classroom program that was new to me was a great DVD the instructor showed during lunch about first aid for gunshot wounds.

After we got done in the the classroom, we moved to the range qualification. And it was here that I harvested some lessons for those of you planning to seek CCW permits.

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More Than Just Self Defense

The students in my basic pistol classes are usually too overwhelmed with new information to ask many questions, but I often get good ones from the intermediate and conceal carry students. This last week I got an exceptional one, and it caused me to consider rewriting a part of my book.

We had been going over situational awareness, and she asked if I had any suggestions, beyond the exercises in the book, to help practice for that. We discussed some, and then went on with how that could contribute a lot to other areas of our lives, giving us both the motive and opportunity to actually practice it all the time.

The implications for self defense are important, obviously, so that we may be aware of danger as early as possible and can avoid it or respond otherwise as appropriate. We agreed that it was very important to teach this to children early, since they are even more vulnerable.

So, in what other ways would the constant practice of situational awareness benefit us and those around us?

We can become much better, safer drivers. Now this might seem contradictory a little, since distraction is a major cause of accidents and we are proposing to be aware of a great deal more than we might otherwise be, but if we integrate that awareness into other safe driving habits, consciously weeding out the irrelevant things that are so often distractions, it only seems logical that we become a better driver. We train ourselves to observe what we see around us, the actions of other vehicles and pedestrians, and assess them for potential problems. We also would be thinking of simple plans to avoid problems. The key is to be aware and prepared, rather than surprised when danger strikes.

By the same token, we become much safer pedestrians.

We can become better shoppers. I had not thought about this before, but it seems clear. If we are practicing being aware of our surroundings, why would that not extend to examining, assessing and evaluating the things we propose to purchase? Did you ever get home with a rotten potato in the bottom of the bag? Did you determine to lift the bag and LOOK for one next time? Cracked eggs? Out of date milk? Dented cans? A tear in a shirt, or a missing hook on a boot after you got the items home? I’ve done them all at one time or another, but I’ve done that far less often since I began to practice awareness… and I wasn’t even thinking about it that way. It was just a part of the whole process.

Might we not become far better friends and neighbors? Before I began to carry a gun, I could not have told you much about the normal happenings in my neighborhood to save my life. I literally was not paying attention. After several years, and consciously practicing the drills, I can actually look out my windows and  spot a car, truck or person that doesn’t “belong” because I’ve invested the time and effort to know who and what does belong.  That doesn’t mean the stranger is up to no good, obviously, but they are worth a second or even a third glance. If I see a stranger hanging around, with no evident purpose, I’ll watch even more closely. And my neighbors commonly do the same now since I suggested it to them years ago. I live alone, and one neighbor has called me many times when strangers drive up here, just to be sure I’m OK.

Now, some people might not appreciate that part, and in a crowded neighborhood it would be impractical, but it works out well here. Another neighbor called once this summer to let me know my sneaky horses had gotten out on the other side of my property. I would not have known about it until I went out to feed otherwise, and they might have gotten into real trouble by then. So the exercise of awareness can help to build safer and more friendly neighborhoods.

Obviously, you don’t want to become a nosy parker, and interventions like the phone calls would be reserved for serious situations or questions, but the very practice of observing and assessing is what is most important for your own development and safety.

We came up with a good list, I think, but I would be very glad to get your feedback so I can add as many practical suggestions as possible to my teaching material. How would you go about expanding your own practice of situational awareness, and how do you think it would it affect your family, neighborhood and safety? What might be a downside or problem with those listed here?

[The book, “I Am NOT A Victim” is still available free to anyone who sends me an email and asks for it. Please let me know where you saw the offer. I am sending it only in pdf format now, so if you can’t open a pdf document for some reason, or would just rather have something else, let me know that too.]

A Flashlight on Your Gun?

Two posts at Autrey’s Armory, What’s the Deal with Tactical Flashlights? and How Do You Hold This? sparked a dialog, and then some serious thinking on my part as well.

I start, as always, by considering my own place in the self defense continuum, and any potential hazards. Not every technique, piece of gear or tactical idea is right or necessary for everyone, but most of them are certainly worth considering. I won’t be repeating anything much that is in the articles, so please do read them if you would like to join the discussion here.

First, then, is thinking about potential attacks in your home or during the evening or nights when you are out and about. Close your eyes and imagine as many as you can. And I mean real possibilities. Nobody can anticipate everything.

In how many of those potential attacks would having a light be imperative to locate, identify and aim at your target? How might using that light make you MORE vulnerable, more of a target? If you have not been to a comprehensive tactical class, you might want to consider taking one because a lot of these questions are covered.

Of course you don’t want to put yourself into the position of possibly shooting anyone unnecessarily or, heaven forbid, a family member, so the second consideration is making sure your plans for lighting are integrated with all of your other self defense necessities: barriers, alarms, and so forth. The neighborhood drunk going into the wrong house isn’t going to be a problem for you if you always lock your doors. The family member, guests, renters coming home late at night would have a key, turn on lights, and convey agreed on signals to demonstrate that he/she is not an intruder. Children who can’t be trusted to do the same probably shouldn’t be going out alone at night anyway, I’d think.

Where light would be an absolute imperative, can you think of anything besides a flashlight that would do the job and not work against you? Motion detector lights on entrances, with smaller ones (and/or regular night lights) in hallways would be good if you have people wandering around at night.

If you must be out of the house at night, either in the car or walking, what precautions could you take to minimize being alone in the dark? Where would you need a flashlight, and would there be any way to avoid that place and time? If you had to draw your gun, would you have time or presence of mind to draw a flashlight as well? If you had the flashlight already in your hand, could you draw and fire without hesitation or fumbling? See an older article of mine to consider the necessity of being able to shoot well with one hand.

One suggestion in Autrey’s article is to mount a flashlight on your carry or home defense gun. She goes into the problem of that making you a greater target, of course. My contention is that I would not want, ever, to point a gun at someone before I had identified them as a threat; as one I would be willing to actually shoot. Some folks might be more comfortable with that possibility than I am.

Holding the flashlight in the other hand is the subject of the second article. Lots of good ideas and plenty of expert input there. Try them all, and see how they might fit into your own self defense program.

Lots to think about, and plenty of things to try. What would you do if you found yourself in a situation where you needed to be holding both a flashlight and a gun? Or, even better, what has worked for you so far? Any real life experiences to share?

Strengthening Exercises for Hands

A reader posted an excellent suggestion in the comments to “On The Other Hand” for strengthening hands. I thought of several others, and continued to look into it, so it seemed a good idea to write more about it. My left wrist is still very sore, and I’m being cautious about how much I use it, but I certainly don’t want the left hand to become weakened.

As always, there’s plenty of information available on the internet, and I found two sites especially with detailed instructions and photographs of hand exercises used by physical therapists. Total Orthopaedic Care hasn’t been updated since 2005, but the pictures are very clear and the directions timeless. Livestrong.com is up to date and contains much more detail, with lots of other health related things that might be interesting, so I’ve bookmarked it to look into more later.

After reading all this, I was thinking of our busy schedules and how difficult it is to work in MORE exercises, or much of anything else, and began to wonder if much of this couldn’t be integrated into our normal routine doing other things. Just as the continuous practice of situational awareness is actually part of our “dry fire” program – or should be – strengthening our hands, and keeping them strong, must be part of our everyday living.

Most women used to have hands nearly as strong as men, before the advent of dishwashers and all the other convenience appliances and services. Nobody wants to go back to the 1800s, of course, but it might be smart to take a look at our daily routine and find at least a few things we could do physically with our hands to improve their strength and flexibility.

I don’t have a dishwasher, and wash mine by hand each day. Lots of opportunity to do flexing and grasping exercises, and it is clearly even better to do those exercises in warm water! Folks with arthritis or old scar tissue would find this especially beneficial.

Many ordinary household chores offer similar opportunities if you think about it. The trick is to be aware of what you are doing with your hands, and incorporate some of the necessary exercises into the action required to do the jobs. Sweeping, mopping, shoveling snow, and many others come to mind.

Gardening is a wonderful way to exercise your whole body, and pulling weeds is certainly a process that can contribute to stronger hands. Careful attention to body alignment, posture and reach will improve the effect and reduce the fatigue or potential for injury. As with anything, stay aware of your goal and the steps needed to reach it.

Knitting, crochet, sewing and other crafts also present us with good exercise for our hands. These things are of more use for retaining flexibility, of course, since most do not involve muscle resistance to weight, but there are likely many hobbies and crafts that would include those things as well.

The trick is not to zero in on one thing, requiring only one or a few motions. That would tend to strengthen only SOME muscles, but not give the balanced results of a more rounded program.

Luckily, just regular shooting (both hands, of course) and dry fire gives our hands a great work out. And with the ammunition situation increasingly optimistic, there’s no reason not to keep this one at the top of the list.

Too Hot To Shoot!

In many parts of the country, it really is too hot to shoot much of the time these days. And then, of course, there’s always the problem of scarce ammunition. What to do? How do you keep your skills sharp under those conditions?

Practice – General guidelines for dry fire exercises:

CAUTION: All of the safety rules must be maintained during these exercises. Remove all live ammunition from the room. Eliminate all distractions as much as possible. Establish specific times and places for exercises. Check to be sure gun is unloaded EACH TIME you begin a dry fire exercise. Exercises done on the range, live fire, should be done with a qualified instructor or experienced mentor and conform with all standard and range specific rules and safety precautions. Ask an instructor for schedule of live fire sessions available or to arrange for one.

What is “dry fire?” This simply means that you use an unloaded gun, dummy ammunition or gun simulation for practice and drills to learn new skills and practice them to a desired level of competence before you shoot live ammunition at the range. [Make sure your gun would not be damaged by dry fire (empty). You may need to use a dummy round or “snap caps.“ Check with manufacturer.]

Why dry fire? Believe it or not, dry fire is far more important for building good skills than live fire. You don’t have the recoil to deal with, and it doesn’t cost anything. The only way to build “muscle memory” is with many repetitions of a PERFECT action, so taking the time to learn things and practice them CORRECTLY from the start will save you countless hours. It takes about 300 repetitions to learn a habit, but at least 10,000 to UNLEARN one. Therefore, if you are not confident that you fully understand the operations called for in an exercise, wait to consult your instructor before you proceed. You’ll save lots of time and money in the long run.

Make specific plans for place and time to practice. If you make and stick to a schedule, you will benefit the most and create safe habits. In the ideal world, you would practice at least 10 to 15 minutes every day. Most people who are serious about self defense manage this about three times a week – at least in the beginning. Your choice.

Choose one place in your home, garage, patio or other for your dry fire exercise. Do not engage in this activity anywhere else except on the gun range. This helps form good habits and reduces risk of accidents. Evaluate the area for hazards such as appliances, fire sources and anything that would make the actual discharge of a gun a danger to you or anyone else. Eliminate those where possible. Choose a “safe direction” for your dry fire and keep your gun pointed in that direction as much as possible, depending on the drill.

Unless the drill calls for it, do not allow anyone else to be in the room. Do not use anything but simulated guns if others are present. Never point ANY gun at another person unless you are being attacked. Use an actual target.

Remove ALL live ammunition from your dry fire area. Check to make sure the gun is unloaded before entering the dry fire area and before EACH exercise. This may seem excessive or redundant, but it is a vital safety habit. The first thing said in most negligent (accidental) discharges is, “I thought the gun was unloaded.”

Maintain the three absolute rules each and every time you handle a gun. Muzzle and trigger control, along with frequent – even obsessive – checking for an empty chamber will go a long way towards guaranteeing that nobody will ever get hurt unless they attack you.

Eliminate distractions as much as you can. Turn off TV or radios, unplug the phone and lock the doors.

When you come to the end of your dry fire session, review what you have done and consciously END your session before you leave the area. Be very aware of what you are doing before you reload and store or holster the gun. This is the point were many unintended discharges occur. Do not reload in your dry fire area under any circumstances.

The above is from my book, “I Am NOT A Victim.” It’s available free to anyone who sends me an email and requests it. Follow the link to find contact information at the bottom of the page.

Next, we’ll look at some specific dry fire drills. I’d love to have comments on the drills you use and find helpful.

Of Skills Drills and Negligent Discharges

20130105-204706.jpgDon’t worry, the negligent discharge wasn’t mine…but it brought home a lesson I had underscored at the range today.

As those who follow my page on Facebook know, I shot the IDPA Classifier today for the first time. (Side note: If you aren’t following me on Facebook, I invite you to join the discussion there; I share lots of stuff that isn’t large enough to warrant its own blog post.) For those who don’t do IDPA, the Classifier is a standardized 90-round course of fire that tests many of the common skills needed to compete in IDPA: drawing and re-holstering, shooting on the move, shooting from behind cover, and reloading your firearm quickly. Whether IDPA skills translate to real-world lethal force defensive encounters is a subject of perennial debate, but in my view of things, anything that makes you more accurate and confident in your gun handling skills is a good thing.

In any event, I had a great time, and came home from the range with a bunch of lessons, both good and bad, bouncing around in my head.

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A Free eBook for MWAG Readers

1382561_47291255A friend and regular reader who calls herself MamaLiberty, made a generous offer in a comment to my post the other day about training and “unusual attitudes”. I wanted to call out her offer here for those who might have missed it.

Here’s what she wrote:

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. :)

I’ve read MamaLiberty’s book. It’s a great primer and an easy, compelling read, and her story illustrates that trouble can, and does, find us anywhere, even in the places we think we’re safe. My heartfelt thanks to her for making this generous offer to my readers.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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.

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Circle Back to the Basics

20121124-211956.jpgNo matter how many fancy guns we have, no matter how much tacti-cool crap we bolt onto the accessory rails, and no matter how much we spend on trigger work, super-duper Titanium strikers, and “precision” replacement parts for our guns, our skill with a gun ultimately depends on our ability to execute the fundamentals – sight picture, stance, grip, and trigger control – with precision and on demand.

I was reminded of this truism while at the range this evening for a “Ladies Night” event, the tail end of a longer day of shooting and teaching stuff. We had a great turnout, over a dozen women with all manner of pistols, revolvers and a few rifles. I even saw a specialty scoped .22 LR rifle that looked like some sort of weird hybrid between a Ruger 10/22 and a Steyr AUG. Its owner told me it was a custom weapon for steel silhouette shooting.

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