Got It On Camera

My Quest for C Class

Note: I thought about delaying this post until I found some good video editing software that I like, so I could illustrate my points. But I think the points need to be made. When I finally settle on editing software I will post a follow-up.

When I first took up golf, one of the best tools I found to help my swing was to watch myself on video. While most people have no problem pointing out my faults, I tend to politely dismiss their help. But, on video, the good parts and bad parts of my swing stand out clearly, without comment or advice. The camera doesn’t lie, and it isn’t trying to get in my head and mess me up to make that $5 Nassau.

This past weekend I was using some software to capture individual frames of my shooting videos as photos. In the process, I got to look at my shooting stance, grip, and follow through in slow motion, and I found out that video works the same way with my shooting as it did for golf.

When I shot video of my golf, I would tape my practice sessions as well as my play, so I could compare what I did when I concentrated on it, versus what I did when I wasn’t concentrating as much as relying on muscle memory and training.

For my shooting, I reviewed match footage, but I don’t have video of any practice sessions. I am focusing on the match, and on making good shots, not on the mechanics. So, what I am seeing on video is my ingrained habits, my training.

Here’s what I found out:

> My draw is smooth, and it does what I think I have been practicing for it to do. The gun comes out and up smoothly, and I press straight out while the support hand takes a grip. It also goes straight to the target, without any oscillation at the top. That’s good.

> I control recoil a lot better than I think I do. From the beginning of my shooting career, I’ve always thought that I did a poor job of recoil control, almost like I was shooting one of those .500 Magnums you see on Youtube. It turns out, however, that my muzzle rise is actually on par with some of the best shooters I’ve seen. It goes up just a little and settles right down. This proves that not only do I have a bad image of myself as a shooter, I’m also focused well on the target such that muzzle flip isn’t even noticeable. That’s good.

> I do a decent job of positioning my body as I shoot. But, as I suspected, I move a lot like a sea lion. That will improve as I lose weight. I full imagine to be moving like a penguin in no time.

> On close up targets, I lack the confidence to make double taps. I will instead take two measured shots. It’s not that I can’t do double taps, so it has to be confidence. That should come with practice.

> I do a decent job keeping the muzzle down range when I move. I’ve never been warned or DQ’ed by a Range Officer, so that confirms it.

> I need to pay a little more attention to my trigger finger when I draw or move. I have been warned about this, so this is something to pay attention to and practice.

> Compared to someone like Dave Sevigny, my magazine changes look like I’m trying to force a live snake into a coke bottle. I think I can make this better by practicing. But it’s not because of the direction the bullets face in my magazine pouch. (Yes, I had someone point this out to me, again.)

> My Glock 17 Bruce runs flawlessly in every video I’ve shot. This jives with the fact that I’ve never had a malfunction of any kind in a match. In fact, apart from a broken extractor and a couple of limp-wristing incidents with my son, Bruce has had exactly 2 failures to extract in the 19 years I’ve had him.

At my next match, I’m going to try to get video of me on every stage. By then I will have some better editing video, and I’ll make another report showing what I’ve found.

I’m also planning a range trip on a week day in a couple of weeks. If the range is clear enough, I will get some video of some standard drills like El Presidente and the Mozambique. I can then compare my results to those I find on line.

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Paradigm Shift

When I first took up competitive shooting, back when the Earth was still cooling, I discovered something that, in retrospect, was detrimental to my growth as a shooter. It’s taken me a long time to change that, and even now, I have only changed half of it. The time has come to change the rest.

The Mistake

The club I first shot with in Alabama was filled with pistol shooters who had grown up in the time when Bullseye and PPC were the reigning games. So, they concentrated a lot on accurate shooting, and not as much on speed. I, on the other hand, was new to competition, and I looked at the scoring method, which was total shooting score divided by time, and realized I had an advantage. Most of the members were shooting 9s and 10s but shooting slower than me. I found that I could shoot 7s and 8s but shoot faster, and win. For two years this worked, and I either won or came in second in just about every match. This was my mistake.

Fast forward about five years, to an IDPA club in east Texas. I was still fast enough to get away with shooting not so well. Yes, there was an added penalty for a complete miss that wasn’t there in the Alabama club. But I still did well. I was shooting against some professionals – a couple of Border Patrol agents and some Texas DPS Troopers – and I usually managed to at least be the high amateur. So I settled for faster scores with poorer shooting, and I told myself that was good. My mistake continued.

The Truth

Now, I was faced with the Truth – I can’t shoot badly fast enough to win. So I concentrated on shooting better. In the past two years I’ve learned my about sight alignment and trigger control than I ever knew before. And my shooting scores have improved.

But, I can’t move as fast as I did, and it’s killing my overall scores.

I won’t re-post the video of me shooting the same stage as Dave Sevigny in USPSA, but it’s there in black and white. Dave shot the stage in 28 seconds and I shot it in 63 seconds. That means he could have started over again, and still beat me.

Now, the good side to this is, as I said, my shooting scores have improved. Dave had 174 points and I had 162, right in the middle of the pack. Looking at the other stages, and all 67 competitors, my shooting was in the middle, definitely C Class. But, over the last 20 years I’ve gained weight and slowed down, and that will keep me in D or worse.

And, I need to face it – if I am in a life and death struggle today, I probably won’t survive, because I’m so out of shape and overweight. I’ve been telling myself that I can survive on shooting skills or survival preparations, but that’s not true.

The Answer

If I am ever to get any better in this sport, and if I am going to have a chance of surviving TEOTWAWKI, I have to lose weight and get in shape. And the truth is, at my age, it’s only going to get worse, without hard work.

This isn’t anything new. I’ve been saying the same thing for a long time. My doctors have been saying the same thing for a long time. I would go on a diet and exercise program that was successful for a while, but only as long as I kept it up. Then the old habits would come back.

So I write this today, not to moan and complain, but to get it in black and white. I have to change my lifestyle, if I am going to get better. If I am going to live.

The Shift

I have a plan*, and over the next few months and years I’m going to share my progress, my ideas, my successes, and my failures.

I admit I was reluctant to do this publicly on my blog. But if I am going to succeed I need motivation and support, and maybe this is where I will find it. So, here it is.

* The Plan.

It’s a radical plan my doctor suggested. I suspect he got it from some shady website, maybe a late night infomercial. It has 2 crucial steps, and it scares me, but I’m going to try it.

1. Eat less.

2. Exercise.

I know, it’s radical. Wish me luck.

Level Up

My Quest for C Class

I feel like I should be standing under a floating gold heart or something.

I got a new membership card in the mail yesterday from the USPSA. It turns out that I’ve shot enough matches with classifier stages that I have been classified. No longer do I need to put a “U” in the Class column when I sign in. And, I will now be competing against all others in my class.

My class? D Class in Production. It’s what I expected. It means I’ve averaged under 40% in all my classifier stages so far.

How do I get to C Class? Practice.

I have to score 40% to 59.9% on the next 6 of 8 classifiers that I shoot. How long will that take? I don’t know. Stay tuned.

The Wall Drill, a video

My Quest for C Class

In a recent post I talked about the Wall Drill. I’ve been doing these fairly regularly for about 4 weeks now, and I have found my performance is improving. The sights hardly move at all as I break the trigger.

I was surfing the instructional videos on the interwebz, and I came a cross a really good video on the Wall Drill, presented by its inventor, MSG George Harris of the US Army Reserve, who is also Director of the SIG Academy. It really helped to see it in action.

Weak Hand Shooting is Only Weak Hand if Your Hand is Weak

My Quest for C Class

I’ve been doing the Wall Drill for almost a week now, and when I did it one handed with my left hand, I was reminded of something I already knew, from training class, and from USPSA classifiers where I had to shoot with my left hand – I suck shooting one handed with my left hand. It really is my weak hand. The gun looks like I have some kind of muscle control issues.

I’ve never thought of my left hand as particularly weak, but the truth was staring me in the face.

So, one day last week I decided to take some action. I was out of the office to call on a client, and I happened to be about an hour early for my appointment. As fate would have it, my client’s office was one exit down from a big box sporting goods store. There I found the Everlast Hand and Finger Strengthener. It has separate spring loaded posts for each finger, and a backstrap that looks a lot like a pistol grip.

I’ve been using it while I work, and I’ll report how my Wall Drill results fare.

Dry Firing as Training

Photo courtesy of pistol-training.com

My Quest for C Class

I’ve learned enough in this world to know that it’s all been done before. I’m not going to invent anything new on my road to shooting improvement. The best I can hope for is to take what has already been revealed by the best, and make it my own.

So I started my quest with some research on the interwebz by looking at what the best shooters were doing to improve. Naturally, Caleb Giddings’ Quest for Master Class drew my attention. Caleb pointed me to a great post by ToddG at pistol-training.com, where Todd builds a month-long training routine around the venerable Wall Drill.

The Wall Drill takes the simple dry firing act and isolates the firing action itself, by removing all focus except the front sight and the trigger. Quoting ToddG:

Holding your unloaded pistol in a normal shooting grip and stance, press the muzzle to the wall until it just barely makes contact, then back off about an inch. Because you are using a blank wall as your backstop, you effectively have no target. There is nothing for you to focus on except your front sight.

From this position, practice your trigger manipulation. The goal is to press the trigger straight back with consistent pressure until the “shot” breaks without disturbing your sight alignment throughout the process. Remember, that is the key to accuracy — a proper trigger press that doesn’t mess up your sight picture.

He then builds several training routines around this drill – with both hands, strong hand, weak hand, from retention, from the holster, with movement, and while clearing jams and malfunctions. Taking about 10 minutes to perform, these drills don’t take up much time, and most importantly, they’re too short for me to get bored.

So, I started from the beginning, and I’ve completed Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I practice in a paneled office, so I taped a sheet of plain paper to the wall to take away any point of focus.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, said the Master. I’ve take three.

My Quest for C Class

Last fall, Caleb Giddings at Gun Nuts started a series of posts, which aired on Michael Bane’s Down Range TV, called The Quest for Master Class. I thought they were informative and a good insight into what it takes to work hard to be the best.

I’ve never been threat to make Master in any of the groups I shoot with. While I did win a couple of matches a few years ago, recently I have been content to place in the middle of the pack. In fact, in GSSF, I’ve come in at the top third the last match I shot, and I have steadily improved for a few years.

But I’ve never come in last in a match. Until now.

This past weekend, I came in dead last in the Production division at a USPSA match.

Let this be a lesson to you, dear reader. You cannot cruise in any sport.

I admit, I did not practice at all since my last USPSA match. Yes, I had a couple of visits to the range, and I even shot my USPSA pistol. But I didn’t practice. Practice is doing something inherent to the sport that will build muscle memory, or ingrain a concept. Just shooting is not practice. Shooting while paying attention to sight alignment, or trigger reset, or with my arms bent simulating a difficult stance is practice. I didn’t do any of that.

When I saw the scores, I was surprised. There have been times in my life when I didn’t practice much, and still did better. But I guess times have changed, and the competition is better. And let’s face it, I’m older.

One thing is for sure, though – I am embarrassed, so much so that I considered not even blogging about it. I thought, if anything, I could use the impetus of this failure, this feeling, to drive me to improve. Then, in a few months, after I work my ass off and finish in the top half of a match, I can blog about the time I came in dead last, and used it to drive me to improve.

But I also know myself. It would be so easy just to stay where I am, not say anything, and not improve, if I’m not accountable to anyone.

But if I share this, then I’m officially on the hook, as it were. I know there are people who read this, and I can rely on them for feedback, either for ideas and encouragement, or not to read any more, which is feedback in itself.

So, starting today, look for a post at least once a week about My Quest for C Class. Because, officially, I can’t get any worse.