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Firearms training: Mastering the basics

When you practice, you need to do it in a combat fashion with a combat mindset

When it comes to teaching shooting, I can never say enough about the importance of the basics. Problem is, it is incredibly hard to sell training when you have the word “basic” in the course title? Let me try to sell you some basics.

Think of how many times you have heard coaches say, “Looks like it is back to the basics for us!” on the news after a major loss (it could be any sport but, it’s always after a major and unexpected loss). That statement makes me think that the basics are pretty important. As a law enforcement officer, if you suffer a major loss, you may never get a chance to get back to the basics. So hit them hard now!

Glued to Cardboard, Stapled to a Stick
Trainers are always talking about visualization, how important it is and how it can influence performance. When we practice, for the most part we are target shooting. This means we are shooting in our time and not in the target’s time. If you cannot get the hits you want in a controlled environment — against a piece of paper glued to cardboard stapled to a stick — how do you expect to perform when things go south and that cardboard starts evading and shooting back at you?

Have you ever heard an instructor say, “Spread your shots out!”

I know for a fact that under stress and at speed, my shots spread out just fine all by themselves. Laughable, but we’ll save that idea for another time.

When you practice you need to do it in a combat fashion with a combat mindset. Meaning no matter how slow you shoot or move you need to do it purposefully, like your life depends on it. Because it does! Practice in such a fashion that you are not only training your muscles and neurological pathways but also your brain. If you are shooting single shot drills from the holster, don’t target shoot; combat shoot. If your gunfight starts with you knowing there is a deadly threat in front of you and you have your hand on your gun with the retention device defeated, that’s a good day. However, chances are you won’t be ready no matter how hard you try to be aware. There will always be some level of surprise. We can minimize this by training the hard way in order to fight easy.

Combat Marksmanship
How do we train in a combat fashion even though we are technically target shooting? We need to train with a combat mindset by using visualization coupled with the desire to build a solid motor program that we can rely upon under “tense, uncertain, or rapidly-evolving situations” (Graham v Connor). My friend and co-trainer, Kevin Davis says, “We strive for perfection and only settle at excellence.”

Take those single shot drills and think about these specific points.

1.) Draw the gun. Do it as fast as you can, as perfectly as you can. Do not simply take it out of the holster like you are standing in the locker room putting it away after your shift. Don’t start with your hand on the gun. Move to it with your hands in any position but a ready position. I would even avoid the interview position.
2.) Present to the target. NOW! Use a combat draw stroke that screams “FREEZE!” Don’t present in a bowling or porpoising fashion that merely suggests “Hey, you.”
3.) Get on the sights. Get sights, sight picture and trigger finger working as soon as reasonable. This isn’t Boy Scout camp. If you get some semblance of sight alignment, get the trigger finger working. Sights should interrupt your plane of vision on the way to the target.
4.) See what you need to see. Know what is an acceptable sight picture and alignment for the target and distance. Time issues will take care of themselves if you are shooting based on the two former. You should shoot as fast as you can accurately hit. Sometimes that means being willing to miss or fire a less than perfect shot in the pursuit of perfection. We should learn from our mistakes. (I should be a genius by now.)
5.) Manage recoil. Make the sights your mission so that you see them when you fire and can call your shot. Shoot every shot as if you were firing another and you need the sights to make the next shot. Resist the urge to come off the gun to see how you did. If you follow the sights you will know how you did without seeing the bullet holes.
6.) Follow through and recovery. Off the target and sights? Off the trigger. Breathe to reduce stress and expand vision. Bring the gun back in the same way it went out. Up and out to present. In and down on the way back. Like you are operating on rails. Back to the holster and secure. Do not relax until you are back in the holster. Stay tactical until the shooting is done, it isn’t over until you are secured in the holster.
7.) Draw. Shoot. Repeat. Build those skills.

As you read this there are bound to be things that are unclear to you, controversial to others or apparently remedial to some. This is how I train with all my weapon systems. Like my life depends on it. No do-overs. No excuses. Just solid motor programming of mind and body, for performance I can rely on when needed. I can guarantee performance from those I train as well as myself by incorporating this type of mindset and operation in training. Whether you are doing this for competition or for life you need to do more than just advanced training. You need to master your basics.

Those who can, do.
Those who understand, teach.

Part-time police officer Chris Cerino is most recognized as the competitor that came in 2nd place in both Top Shot season 1 and Top Shot All Stars. He is currently the field host of Gun Talk TV, Guns and Gear and a trainer on The First Person Defender series on Gun Talk’s YouTube page. He is an internationally known firearms instructor who has been training law enforcement officers, military operators and civilians for more than 18 years. He has worked as Peace Officer in a variety of positions from municipal and county to state and federal agencies spanning 23 years. Chris continues to instruct through his company Chris Cerino Training Group at the national and international level. A published writer on the topics of firearms training and instruction he continually pursues validation of his skills and the skills he teaches by competing in three gun, precision rifle matches and NRA action pistol matches across the country.

Contact Chris Cerino