Training is the introduction of new techniques. Practice, learning through repetition, is necessary to apply these skills properly. It’s important to attend training, but the majority of your time should be spent practicing the techniques over and over again until they become automatic. The best way to practice is slowly, step-by-step, concentrating on efficiency, not speed.
To learn a skill sequence - mentally programming a series of actions - you have to begin performing the actions slowly, step-by-step, consciously thinking about each step of the process. The conscious mind can only think about one thing at a time. To learn a four-step sequence you start by thinking about Step I and then the body performs that action. After, and only after, Step I is correct you consciously think about Step II, again with action following thought. Step III is next, and after it’s performed you think and act out Step IV. By methodically working step-by-step the conscious mind has time to think about the action, the body receives the commands necessary to execute the sequence, and the results are predictable. This type practice is performed slowly, at about five to ten percent of full speed, concentrating on technique, not speed.
The best way to get in the repetitions required to learn is dry practice, focusing on one or two specific techniques at a time. I dry practice a lot, like every day for at least about ten minutes. One day I work on my presentation, drawing the pistol smoothly while moving. The next day I work empty reloads while moving. The day after that it’s something else. My dry practice is slow, smooth, and never hurried. I’m focusing on performing the actions as efficiently as possible with no wasted movement.
When I hit the range for life fire it’s still slow, methodical repetitions. I chunk multiple skills together - moving, communicating, using cover and getting accurate hits - working at about twenty-five percent speed, again concentrating on performing efficiently. Remember, when the mind files away a performance it doesn’t distinguish between a good run and a bad one. Your job is to ensure each drill is a good one. That doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes, but when you do you correct it immediately, continuing until the drill is complete. You’re learning techniques, but also learning to handle unexpected problems. To accomplish this you have to perform slowly. Also, keep in mind that speed is relative to experience. When first beginning learning a skill “slow” is one speed; after doing it a couple of thousand times “slow” will be quicker than it once was.
Are there times when you perform drills at speed and under stress? Yes, but think about it this way. If all you did in school was take tests, never studying or practicing, you’d have difficult time learning and the test scores wouldn’t be very impressive. The same is true for fighting skills. Study and practice a lot, at slow speed, concentrating on proper technique. Every so often test to determine progress and identify areas that need more attention. Ultimately, you must establish a well-worn, rapid path between conscious decisions and subconscious, immediate actions. ~ Tiger
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of “The Book of Two Guns” - http://shootrite.org/book/book.html writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk’s DVD, “Fighting With The 1911 - http://shootrite.org/dvd/dvd.html McKee’s new book, AR-15 Skills and Drills, is available off Shootrite’s website: http://shootrite.org/AR15SkillsBook/AR15SkillsBook.html