Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Getting Off The "X" - The Need For Tactical Training

I recently had the opportunity to go back for some excellent tactical training - low light pistol operator course at The Makhaira Group.  Excellent course - I highly recommend it.  So anyway - I’m not sure exactly what prompted the comment, but I recently mentioned to someone that I had just taken some formal tactical firearms training to refresh my own skills.  That prompted the comment: “Tactical training?!  Why in the world do you need tactical training?  You’re not a police officer or a member of the military special forces!”  That’s true.  I’m neither of those things.   And I’m pretty sure I won’t be gearing up to storm a hardened complex or rescue hostages any time soon.  But I am a “Sheepdog” - a concealed carry permit holder who loves his fellow citizens, and knows that I may very well be present someday in a crisis situation.  If I am present in such a situation (and the police are not), I want to make a difference and help preserve innocent life while waiting for the police to arrive.  Because of my commitment, I carry a concealed firearm for self-defense nearly always (except at work and when I’m in the shower).  I have made the commitment to protect my family, my neighborhood, and the members of my church.  That being said, I then also have an obligation to be proficient and have the ability to be as effective as possible if the opportunity for using my firearm in self-defense presents itself.  And to be honest, standing on a line in front of static paper bulls-eye targets in no way represents the types of situations encountered in real-world self-defense crisis situations.

The obligation: First, let me say this about the requirement for training: I do not believe it should be mandated by law.  The obligation to be proficient in firearms handling is a moral obligation, and each person needs to make the decision for themselves as to what level of training they think will give them the proficiency they need for their particular circumstances.  But if I am going to be a "Sheepdog" - one who is willing to be present in a crisis situation and I am armed, I then I feel that I have the duty to not be the cause of harm to others or myself.  If I freeze up, hesitate, or simply don’t know what to do, my chances of causing more harm are much greater.  This can lead to a whole variety of legal implications for me, or even more serious physical and emotional implications for all those present at the scene.  My goal then is to render aid to others, preserve life, protect the innocent, stop any imminent violence by the bad guys, and be an effective resource for the police who eventually arrive to investigate.  Again, I submit that performing proficiency training that involves standing on a line and shooting at static paper targets in no way prepares me to do any of the above.  But if I am engaged in a training regimen that teaches the concepts of moving, shooting, communicating, and making sound, decisions, my ability to be effective and prevent further harm greatly improves.  Tactical training provides just that environment, plus it provides a multitude of "stresses" that static target shooting does not provide.

"The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours." - LTC Dave Grossman, "On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs"

Enter a piece of terminology we in the self-defense circles fondly refer to as “getting off the X.”  If someone is attacking you, and you stand there like a statue, you will get injured or worse - shot.  It’s as simple as that.  But if you move and make quick, decisive actions, your chances of winning the fight and avoiding injury are greatly increased.  And if you can get the bad guy to “stand on his X,” then you further increase your chances of winning and stopping the attack.  The “X” is the place that gives an adversary static predictability.  In that case the person on the X might just as well be a paper target – easy to hit, and sure to be injured.  Your goal is to stay off of your “X” and put the bad guy back on his.

(Example Tactical Training Course Activities)

So what is out there in the way of tactical training, and what does the term “tactical training” actually entail? Tactical firearms training, hand-to-hand (or “empty hand”) training, and sporting competitions all lend themselves well to this idea of tactical training to address immediate threats. The word “tactical” simply implies trying to make decisions to help meet an immediate or short term goal. The immediate goal in this case is that of stopping a bad series of gravely harmful events. Tactics nearly always involves movement, quick decisions, and having contingencies. Tactical training does not always mean donning forty-five pounds of web gear and playing Rambo. Receiving tactical training means training for a variety of events and environments, and with a variety of methods, skills, and tools.

Tactical Firearms Training: If you’re going to carry a gun for self-defense, you need to be able to deploy it beyond the paper targets at the pistol range. This can (and should) involve a variety of formal training environments where actual experts in this field of study are there to give you real-world insights. In Northern Colorado, we have one excellent resource at The Makhaira Group. Gunsite Academy (located in Arizona), Front Sight (located in Nevada), and Suarez International (various training venues) are all excellent examples of well-renowned and affordable firearms training venues to help you sharpen your tactical skills. The key here is formal training from experts in their field. Get a professional set of eyes (not your well-meaning buddy) on your techniques and use the guidance of a disinterested third party to improve your tactics through professional instruction, and honest criticism and opinion.

Hand-to-Hand Training: Often referred to as “open hand” training. You may not be able to draw your gun, you may not have your gun with you (shame on you!), or the firearm may just not even be the appropriate level of response. Tactics involves a variety of tools. Knowing how to stop an immediate threat through a variety of means, even your own body, is an important aspect of being willing to be that “Sheepdog” in a crisis situation. If you’re going to step up to help out in a crisis situation, you’re going to get hurt. That’s a fact. This type of training will not only help build skills to employ various empty handed defenses, but will help condition your body to be ready and will help make it “hurt” less. See your local health club, self-defense school, or other types of activities in your area. There are a variety of video courses that you can take, but the actual physical practice is irreplaceable.

Shooting Competition Activities: There are a wide variety of firearms recreational and sporting activities that lend themselves well to the idea of thinking on your feet and practicing tactical movements. IDPA, defensive pistol, and even steel challenge competitions fit right in with this category of training. Many shooting ranges even offer “combat leagues” and other dynamic events. Here in Northern Colorado, the Northern Colorado Rod and Gun Club hosts International Defensive Pistol (IDPA), Defensive Pistol, and Steel Challenge matches monthly. Participation is open to the public, and participation fees are minimal (usually $10 dollars). Not only are these events dynamic, but they are well attended, and you can meet many others who are trying to build up their skills and you can share ideas.

Professional Reading: You heard me right! I know reading doesn’t sound very “tactical.” Do some homework and find out what’s going on out in the real world. All those “armed citizen” reports and such are chock full of real-life examples where someone defended themselves successfully (or tragically not), and have some very detailed descriptions of what was done right, what was done wrong, and lessons learned for improvement. Learn from others. Monthly magazines from professionally written sources such as the US Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) and the National Rifle Association (NRA), for example, have sections devoted to reporting on these incidents and can provide valuable insight into what others went through. Those publications also have a plethora of well written articles that talk about holster and concealment techniques, equipment suggestions, and additional training ideas.

Regardless of how you choose to do it, you need to “get off the X” and make additional training an ongoing endeavor. Tactical skills tend to diminish rapidly as they are largely a matter of muscle memory and ingraining behavior so that it becomes second nature. To keep skills sharp, you need to continually practice and get training in updated techniques. Getting off of your X may mean being able to putting bad guy back on his X in a crisis situation. There are no points for second place in this game – you need to be in it to win it.