01 August 2017

There Is No Crying in Shooting

There is no crying on the range. We've all heard that take-off from the line in A League of Their Own. It's the tough girls' (and guys') battle cry to "harden the f up," "suck it up, buttercup," show no weakness.

And I don't think that's quite right. Tears show up on the range for good, even necessary, reasons, and we shouldn't deny or try to stop them all the time.

The work of learning how to shoot can be incredibly hard, both physically and mentally. Blisters, bruises, sore muscles, and more can turn up. Laughing off a gnarly brass burn is one thing when you've lost count of how many scars you've accumulated over the years, and certainly, every new shooter should be learning how to grit their teeth and carry on - safely, please! But at the end of the day? I can't judge how bad you hurt or were shocked or scared.

As for the mental aspects, shooting is an incredibly technique-heavy skill set. There's a lot to keep track of and do well. That's exhausting all on its own, and frustrating when things don't click as you're hoping and expecting. Or even worse, when you think you've finally gotten it, but realize you actually had it all wrong. For years maybe. Tears of exhaustion, frustration, even betrayal. It happens. And sometimes a good cry is what gets you past it to move forward.

Who hasn't shot a drill or stage that hasn't gone entirely to hell? If you haven't, I submit you haven't shot enough or pushed hard enough. When that happens, and it has or it will, again and again, sometimes it's easy to shake it off and try again. Sometimes, not so much. Leaking a few tears is okay. It's walking away and not coming back, or holding in that emotion and letting it screw you up more, that's more problematic.

A few years ago, I learned that a fundamental aspect of my marksmanship technique was quite likely the anchor causing a long plateau in my improvement. I had worked really hard to get right, but right...wasn't. I cried ugly tears the entire hour ride home from the range that night. Then got up in the morning to keep learning. Driving through the bumpy road to literally rewiring my brain with a better technique and everything that went with it was really hard. It took a lot of time and a lot of work. So yes, there were tears. But I got better.

More, guns are, for many of us, inextricably tied up with notions of self defense. We use guns to protect ourselves and our loved ones...but to do that, we must learn to value ourselves and find ourselves worthy. We may have to overcome fears about hurting others - the parent, child, sibling, partner attacking, or the innocent person caught up in the middle or who could become a friendly fire victim, or even straight fears about being able to manage the responsibility and power, physical and otherwise, of the gun. None of those are easy for everyone, and the process of arriving there can be immensely emotional.

Imagine if you were so terrified of shooting in defense that you could fight against tears or fight to pull the trigger. Cry, cry if you must. Imagine if nobody had ever told you that your life meant something, that your life was valuable. Imagine the floodgates of emotion that come with that becoming, then try to tell me those tears have no place on the range when they result in someone who now believes in their worthiness to fight for themselves.

Tears aren't weak. They aren't the end of the story. Sometimes, they're the beginning.

21 March 2017

Contextual Handgun: The Armed Parent/Guardian (AAR)

After action reports, AARs, for training classes are often written in the immediate aftermath, even before the student has finished unpacking and doing their laundry. I like to wait a little longer to let what I’ve just learned settle in my head a little, and so I can really pick out the details that make a particular class shine.

That strategy seemed especially appropriate for the class I took in early March 2017. The full name of the class is Contextual Handgun: The Armed Parent/Guardian (I’ll call it TAP/G here), and it’s taught by John Johnston and Melody Lauer of Citizens Defense Research. I attended the session hosted by John Murphy at FPF Training, in Culpeper, VA. It was my first time at FPF, and I’m hoping to be back for more in the future. It’s always a pleasure finding a new-to-me training range that’s easily accessible with good facilities and an organized host – thanks, John M.!

TAP/G is the first class developed and offered by Citizens Defense Research, and grew out of earlier work that Melody did with her groundbreaking Babywearing and Carrying class. As you might imagine from the name of the company, John and Melody are focused on what works for ordinary people toting guns – not law enforcement, not military, but an entirely different mission with more restrictive rules of engagement from both legal and ethical perspectives. That perspective is why I was interested in the class even though I don’t have kids and don’t spend a lot of time around them.

Turns out that the real key to the class material is in the first part of its name: Contextual Handgun. As introduced early in the classroom time that kicked off the weekend, the context in which we operate drives everything, whether it’s the mission, the gear, or the options available. In other words, we can’t find the best path to our goals unless we’ve identified and articulated them, and taken a look at the entire landscape between where we are now and where we’re trying to get to. The particular context for this class, the armed parent/guardian, was simply an application of the general framework that John and Melody emphasized throughout the class.

The lecture we started out with on day one was an excellent overview of the concept of contextualizing self-defense when children of all ages are in the mix, with application for anyone who might face a self-defense encounter when others are present. John and Melody also identified the goals of the class and contextualized (there’s that word again) the problems of self-defense where children are present into the concepts that are taught in more standard defensive pistol classes. While the material is covered in enough depth for someone completely new to the world of self-defense, it’s perhaps more appreciated by someone who already has a bit of a background and wants to understand how to expand and apply it.

After lunch, we braved the cold for an afternoon of reviewing and practicing the base skills needed to work with a pistol from concealment. The standards here were perhaps a bit tougher than I’ve seen in other classes, in preparation for day two’s shooting requirements, but were achievable by all students in our class, regardless of training background. I especially appreciated shooting a standard law enforcement qualification as the ending exercise for the day, to set a repeatable, objective baseline of shooting skill.

Day two of most defensive pistol classes generally get into the more difficult shooting problems faced by concealed carriers – the use of concealment garments, understanding cover, one-handed shooting, etc. TAP/G held true here by getting into more specific gun-handling knowledge and skills necessary when children are in the mix. The day started with a short additional lecture about aiming points, bridging the gap from fundamentals practice on less humanoid targets, and included a practical demonstration of why ammunition choice matters. Getting behind guns ourselves, we then learned how to manage kids of all ages, whether small enough to be carried or larger than the shooter, while maintaining a high level of performance downrange. Each skill built on one that we had practiced earlier, leaving us with some highly complex tasks that made clear why the day one fundamentals were so important to be able to perform reflexively.

The techniques taught largely fell into the “duh, why didn’t I think of that?” category: simple, easy to implement and remember, and highly effective. They weren’t obvious walking into the class, but now that I know them, I know I won’t forget them because they make so much sense. While geared towards people with children, I was able to immediately think of many applications of the same techniques in my own life. The tools for dealing with ‘big kids’ are, after all, not very different than you might consider for dealing with, well, big kid-like adults.

While we certainly worked hard on learning the relevant shooting skills, John and Melody also took the time to explain why each technique worked and when it would be most useful. As was hammered home all weekend, one of the key drivers for any self-defense is context both for deciding what to do at a certain point in time and for articulating that action at a later time. I found this particularly useful for some of the more potentially controversial solutions or ones that had a very narrow applicability.

Instead of providing “do this” pronouncements, TAP/G is a more nuanced class and requires an appropriately thoughtful approach to using a gun to defend yourself and others. Here, we faced not only the prospect of killing or dying in self-defense, but the consequences of being involved in or responding to an attack involving children and loved ones. Taking on the responsibility of wielding deadly force is and should be a weighty decision, and all the more so when you consider that you may have to choose the lesser of evils when defending more than one individual. TAP/G provides the background to help students think through those issues and the skills to apply their decisions.

The class was capped by the TAP/G qualification, based on the law enforcement qualification we shot at the end of day one but incorporating all of the new skills and techniques we learned in day two. I found it a useful review, reinforcing that I had indeed learned the skills enough to remember and use them. It also gave me a baseline of performance with my actual carry gear, so that I now objectively know how well I shoot with it when including the distractions that are part of managing a defensive shooting encounter with people I need to protect.

Because in the end, we return to the underlying theme of TAP/G, in what I hope to be a series of classes from Citizens Defense Research: do your skills, your gear, and your strategy fit the context?