Tsunami in American Samoa

119 dead. Thousands in need of assistance in American Samoa after a tsunami. Where is the President? Why hasn’t he flown to the scene?

President Obama is with Oprah in Europe somewhere, trying to sell the idea of the 2016 Olympics in Chicago, Illinois. President Obama flew on Air Force One to Europe for a one hour meeting. What did that cost? How much fuel was wasted? Couldn’t he have conferenced in? If he needed to burn fuel, why didn’t he go to Somoa?

Reason and judgment are the qualities of a leader.
–Tacitus

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Captain Obvious

I have what feels like a meaningful insight, and someone, genuinely puzzled by my excitement, says, “Meh? Of course. Everyone knows that.”

It has happened again with the last couple of posts. Sometimes I feel like I am stumbling around the range like one of the cavemen in a Geico commercial, and what passes for personal insight to me is a flash of the blindingly obvious to everyone else. I feel this way because it is so often true. It was pointed out to me again today, both in person and online.

Brian Enos has a website. If you haven’t heard of him, here’s a link to where he wrote a short piece about his own shooting experience and history. There is a large forum on the site as well, and it is frequented by many good shooters with lots of experience. If reading will help, his forum should be a regular stop for all of us trying to improve our skills.

There is a section devoted to zen and shooting, and it explores in detail what I have been poking at with a stick.

If you understand, things are just as they are… If you do not understand, things are just as they are….
–Zen proverb

Range Time

I don’t get to the range as often as I’d like to. It’s a drive, and then there’s work, family, other activities, and sometimes weeks go by. When I do get there, setting up, tearing down, pasting targets, all sorts of things that are not shooting have to happen. So in a 2 hour range visit, how much time is my finger actually on the trigger? 10 minutes, maybe?

Now I like my time at the range, walking down to the 200 yard berm to set up a target, talking about guns and ammo with the other shooters, just being outside on a beautiful afternoon. But still, it is the shooting, the practice time I am talking about. I am trying to get better with a 1911, to shoot at my potential in USPSA matches.

I don’t dryfire at home. Lots of shooters do, but dropping the hammer on a 1911 in the house, no matter how empty the gun, well, you only have to be wrong once. Her tolerance for my hobby would be gone before my hearing returned. So, looking at all the options, how do I get more practice?

That Wilson Combat in the picture? It’s an airsoft gun. I think it might be part of the answer.

Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
–Vince Lombardi

Practice

Say you are driving down a residential street. You are sober, driving attentively, and a car backs out of a driveway a couple of houses down. You stop and avoid the collision by a few feet. There was just enough time.

It is the application of the brakes I want to talk about. Because we all do it and we don’t think about it. Something happens in front of us and without thought, we hit the brakes. It’s a reflexive action. The thinking part of the driver processes the danger, but the move to the brake pedal just happens.

When we first sat behind the wheel of a car and drove slowly around a parking lot, it was all conscious thinking. We drove jerkily, over-correcting and when we did take our foot off the gas and move it over to push the brake, it was all done by thinking about it. And we all sucked at driving at that point. In the scenario I described at the beginning, we would have all hit the other car while we were still thinking about stopping.

Thousands and thousands of repetitions later, we all put the act of applying the brakes into muscle memory. Now we can drive along, listen to the radio, carry on a conversation, and when the conscious decision to stop is made, we smoothly, reflexively, apply the brakes.

I don’t think there is any way to shortcut this process, it is the repetitive practice that makes the response automatic. Practicing martial arts, competitive shooting, sports at every level, all require intensive investments of time. Think of football, for example. They break down the game to basic elements and then practice them over and over. Football practice is drills and more drills.

I starting thinking about this a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, after the pistol match, where I managed to take my usual middling effort down a notch to mediocre, I was talking about this with a friend. We always joke that when the buzzer goes off, our brains fall out. It explains missed targets, fumbled magazine changes, all the results of a little adrenaline and time pressure that culminates in the difference between 1st and 31st place on the scoresheets.

What I realized was that the best shooters are shooting the way we all apply the brakes. Reflexively. Yes, they see the target, make the turns, have a plan for the stage, but when the buzzer goes off, they are shooting out of thousands of hours of practice and muscle memory. Draw, mag changes, front sight and trigger. In essence, their brains might fall out too, but they aren’t using them anyway. This insight is going to change how and how much I practice. It may not make any difference in the match results, but I will benefit.

To return to the original example, what if we took the brake pedal away? Put a button on the steering wheel to actuate the brakes. It certainly could be done. Everyone would get a refresher course, some practice, and then go back to driving. We would get used to using it fairly quickly in normal driving, but in that sudden panic stop, I think we would all plow into the back of the other car, our foot pressed firmly on the floor where the brake pedal used to be.

People who write about spring training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball.
–Sandy Koufax