Making the Best of It

image

So, 19 days after starting my second round of chemotherapy for leukemia, my blood test results pretty much show I have started to bottom out. My ANC was 0.1, which is as low as they show on the test.

So I’m now confined to home, except for clinic visits every other day. Today to pass time, I commenced to checking off a To-do box, and started watching The Pacific.

Meanwhile I cleaned my pistols, and made an embarrassing discovery: the pistol I carry almost every day, Liberty, my G19, had collected an unsightly amount of dust, mostly around the magwell, but also up under the slide, around the firing pin safety and connector. It didn’t take a lot to clean it, but I really don’t know how it might have affected the operation if I had needed to use it.

So now I am going to set a goal to inspect and clean Liberty every Friday or Saturday.

In the meantime, dry fire and study are my assignment. I can’t shoot until I get the IV line removed from my arm, so that’s what I’m left with. But I’ll take it, because like my chemo, it should lead to better things down the road.

Getting Serious

Let’s face it, none of us is getting any younger. Without details, let me say that if I were a pro golfer I would be on the Senior circuit. So the time has come for me to decide – am I going to move forward, or continue where I am and accept a gradual decline into the sunset?

I’m moving forward.

Fortunately, I have some experience to draw on in my quest for improvement.

Once upon a time, when Old Tom Morris was a kid, a friend gave me an old golf bag and set of irons. I went and played, and I was hooked.

In the next three years, I went from nothing to a 14 handicap. How? Immersion, practice and dedication.

I got involved. At first I traveled around our area, playing public courses, but soon I joined a club. I took lessons, bought good equipment, and practiced, practiced, practiced. And my scores got better. I learned new techniques. What was difficult before got easier.

Then I learned how to build golf clubs from parts. I also fitted clubs for others, and I still play with wedges and a putter that I built. Now, this is one area where my shooting has already paralleled my golf, because I am a Certified Glock Armorer, and I am well into learning how my other guns work and are put together,

What was the theme that tied all these improvements together?

Investment

There are several things I can invest in for my shooting future. First, I have always shot matches as a guest of the club where I was. This also means, when I want to practice, I have to go pay a daily fee at a range. So, I plan to join a club, so I can practice more, and have access to lessons and instruction. I am now looking at my options and hope to report something soon.

Next would be to invest my time in practice. I’ve written about this here before, but I am going to establish a real regimen, and stick to it.

Next would be in equipment. Fortunately, my equipment isn’t an issue right now. Yes, there are better guns out there, but, to borrow an analogy from my golf game, by the time a $1,000 driver would do my game any good, I wouldn’t have to buy them because a sponsor would give them to me. It’s the same here. I’m not limited by my gun, and by the time I shoot better than my gun, Glock or Smith or somebody will offer to give me one, provided I don’t remain anonymous.

Next would be involvement, and I’ve already taken some steps in this direction, by sending in my application and money to take an RO training class here in the Atlanta area this summer. Frankly, I think I am long overdue. In golf, I found that knowing the rules backward and forward helped my game immensely. I know it will here too.

I will invest in some coaching, too. There are a number of good shooters around here who teach.

So, look for future posts on my practice regimen and other plans.

What Is It Worth To You?

I found these questions posted by Ben Stoeger in the USPSA section of The Doodie Project:

What do you guys want to get out of this sport and what are you willing to put in to get it?

Wow. This hits to the heart of this blog, and to me this will take a little more thought and answer room than one post on a forum. Look for my thoughts in future posts.

Meanwhile, here is what Ben’s answers were:

I want to have fun, learn, and compete against the best.

I am willing to make shooting the number one thing in my life outside of eating and breathing.

When someone asked about what his wife thought of this, he clarified:

She knows where she stands. I leave my family behind to go and shoot just like pretty much everyone else on this board, the difference is I don’t pretend to put family first.

Interesting.

More to come . . . .

Practice Makes Perfect, Part 2 – The Presentation

This is the second in my series of posts about practicing for competition. It is intended to lay out what a competitive shooter (me) can do to build muscle memory and improve pistol shooting. I should say by way of disclaimer that this isn’t a primer on practice for self defense – that will come in a later series. But a lot of the skills we will practice here will be useful for self defense, so this is where I start.

In competitive pistol shooting, seconds count. I’ve watched a lot of shooters at all levels, and one thing that separates the top shooters from the others is the time it takes to get the first shot off.

There are two parts to this – drawing the gun, and making the first shot. For some sports that start at a ready position not in the holster, like GSSF or Ruger Rimfire, this is distilled to the latter part.

I’m not going to go through the parts of the draw stroke, because a lot of people better than me have covered this in a lot better detail than I could. I suggest going to Youtube or Google and searching for “draw from holster” or similar.

BEGIN PRACTICE

Remember the mnemonic SPARSafety, Purpose, Action, Reflection. In this case, the purpose of the session will be to hone getting the pistol from rest to a first shot in the fastest time possible.

DRAWING FROM THE HOLSTER

To practice this, don your normal holster rig, and, if you’re practicing for IDPA, your normal cover garment. As with before, make sure your gun is unloaded, and all ammunition is removed from the room. This is especially vital if you will be practicing with magazines.

Starting with your hands in the desired initial position (relaxed or surrender) start out by drawing very slowly and intentionally, pressing out, and getting a good sight alignment. Press the trigger, and make sure the sights stay aligned. Concentrate on getting all the parts of the draw perfect. Speed is not the issue at this point.

Slowly increase speed until you are perfectly drawing as fast as you can. Then slow that  back to 3/4 speed for most of the session.

Perform this with as many different hand positions as you can think of. Work on these with both hands, and with your strong hand and weak hand alone. Remember, you will see this in a stage, as well as a classifier or qualifier.

STARTING WITH THE GUN SOMEWHERE OTHER THAN THE HOLSTER

Many USPSA stages start with the gun unloaded on a table or somewhere other than in the holster. So it make sense to practice this. I usually practice it several ways:

  • Standing, gun unloaded on a table. Grab the gun, insert a magazine, rack, press out to aim, and fire. Repeat.
  • Seated, as above.
  • Standing, gun unloaded on a table some distance away, magazine on a different table, some distance away. There are two ways to do this, grab the magazine first or grab the gun first. In a perfect world I grab the magazine first, but I practice it both ways, since I never know what sill come up in a stage.
  • Standing or seated, with the gun in a drawer. This one is used a lot in IDPA stages.

STARTING WITH THE GUN AT READY

I devote the most practice to this, because this move is the most versatile. Think about it – starting with the gun at ready, I press out to the target, aim, and fire. This is what happens at the start of a GSSF stage and a Ruger Rimfire stage, but it’s also what happens every time I move from one shooting position to another in USPSA or IDPA.

This is where I have cut out the most wasted time, and I’ll share with you how. Watch a lot of shooters and you will see this: from ready, they press the gun out, bring it up to eye level, overshoot, bring it back down, overshoot, bring it back up, get the sights in alignment, and shoot.

What you see if the gun going out, then up, then bobbing up and down a few times until it stops. Then, they take aim, and fire.

What I learned to do is to bring the gun up to eye level as I press it forward. When it gets to eye level, I am still pressing out, and I am aligning the sights. Once the arms are extended, the sights are aligned, and I fire. Using a shot timer, I can go from ready to a first shot on target in less than a second. The key is to start aiming as the gun goes forward, and when the sights are on the target, fire.

As before, work on these with both hands, strong hand and weak hand.

PUT IT TOGETHER

Once you are comfortable with all these parts, put together a practice session, based on your upcoming competition. Here’s an example:

  1. From ready, press out, fire. Start slow and work up to full speed. 20 reps.
  2. From ready, strong hand, press out, fire. 10 reps.
  3. From ready, weak hand, press out, fire. 10 reps.
  4. From holster, draw, press out, fire. Start slow and work to full speed over 10 reps.
  5. From holster, draw, press out, fire, strong hand. 10 reps.
  6. From holster, draw, transfer to weak hand, press out, fire. 10 reps.
  7. Unloaded gun on table, standing: insert magazine, rack, press out, fire. 10 reps.

Again, there are countless permutations, and you can customize them to the matches you are shooting, and to the areas of your game you know need improvement.

REFLECTION

Now, as you put away your gun and holster, make note of what went well in your practice session. I like to keep a journal, and keep track of the drills I’ve worked on. When I find I have trouble with one, I can track my improvement, and make sure it gets fixed.

Next time: Sight Alignment and Trigger Control

Practice Makes Perfect, Part 1 – The Practice Mindset

This is the first in a series of posts about practicing for competition. It is intended to lay out what a competitive shooter (me) can do to build muscle memory and improve pistol shooting. I should say by way of disclaimer that this isn’t a primer on practice for self defense – that will come in a later series. But a lot of the skills we will practice here will be useful for self defense, so this is where I start.

THE PRACTICE MINDSET

In order to improve, we must have a devotion to practice, to instruction, and to being honest with ourselves. I read once that human skill, be it shooting or brain surgery, is like the tide – it is either coming in or going out, but it never stands still. You can’t rest on your laurels. So, we must practice, or we lose the skills we have built.

The purpose of practice is to develop skills and muscle memory, so our bodies react automatically, rather than forcing us to do them consciously. But, the key here is to perform them correctly – all the practice in the world is of no use, and in fact, is self defeating, if done incorrectly. It’s better not to practice at all than to do so in a sloppy way, or without thought.

Yogi Berra once said that baseball was 90 percent physical, and the other half, mental. Shooting is like that, only more so. Your mind has to be involved in practice, as it is in the stage.

Do what you need to do to focus. If you are easily distracted by noises in the house, wear your ear plugs or muffs. I wear shooting glasses, especially when practicing sight alignment, so they practice is as close to real as I can get.

Here is my practice routine, which I remember by a little acronym: SPAR – Safety, Purpose, Action, Reflection.

Safety

The safety preparations for practice depend, obviously, on whether this is dry fire practice or live fire practice. Let’s consider both.

Dry Fire

All dry fire practice in this series will be with an unloaded gun, with all ammunition removed from the are where we are practicing. Any practice with individual pieces of ammunition will be done with snap caps.

I can’t stress that enough.

Every dry fire practice session in this series is to be completed with an unloaded gun. Unload the gun, double check that it is unloaded, and remove all ammunition and loaded magazines from the room.

I even go so far as to remove the barrel from my Glock 17 and replace it with a 5.11 plastic training barrel. This makes my Glock inert. Fifteen dollars buys a lot of peace of mind in this case.

Nothing is so tragic as a negligent shooting, especially one that could be prevented by simply following these rules.

Live Fire

For live fire practice, we follow the normal shooting safety rules, including any rules that are particular to the range where you are shooting.

In any case, never practice an unsafe act, as a means to make the practice “better.” Remember, you will perfect what you practice, and if you practice safety, you will get better at it.

Purpose

One of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the end in mind.” In that vein, know what you are trying to accomplish in each practice session. I’ve found that it’s better, especially for dry fire practice, to have several short practice sessions, say, four sessions of 5 minutes, rather than one long 20 minute session. First, I avoid fatigue (both physical and mental), and second, I find they are easier to find time for, so I don’t put them off.

Verbalize and visualize the practice theme, and the session ahead. Know your goals.

Action

Practice makes perfect, so perform the practice perfectly. That sounds trite, but it’s true. I start out very slowly, and perform each movement perfectly. Then, I increase the speed, only so much as I can maintain perfection. I work up to about 3/4 speed and keep it there, honing muscle memory. Only at the end of the session do I increase to full match speed.

Keep in mind the goal of the drill, and acknowledge yourself when you reach it. Positive reinforcement is a powerful thing.

It’s important to acknowledge where we fall short, too, and improve it by reverting to slow perfection.

Reflection

At the end of the session, review the goals of the practice, and make notes. I find a practice journal is helpful, as much to keep up with what techniques I’m practicing, as to track improvement. If you find a particular drill cumbersome or not helpful, try to find out why, rather than abandon it. I’ve found that the problem is usually more with me than with the drill.

++++

Next time: Presentation