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.