Doing things by feel

Getting in the car with the children. It’s dark. They struggle to put their seat belts on in the dark. “Dad, wait… I don’t have my seat belt on… I can’t see the thing the buckle goes into!”  My response? “Feel for it.”

I’ve been teaching my kids the importance of doing things by feel. You don’t always need to use your eyes, as you can accomplish many things by just feeling. In fact, sometimes it’s better to use your sense of touch, leaving your sense of sight to perform other duties.

For instance, the reason I opted to write this blog entry is because I was just doing dry-fire practice with my handgun. I was working on malfunction drills and reloads. Everything I did, I was doing by feel. Why? Because I’m practicing on keeping my eyes on the threat. I can’t use any other sense to mind the threat (maybe hearing) so I really want my eyes to be focused on that task. If I have to avert my eyes and focus to the malfunction/reload process for even a second, that takes my eyes off the threat and who knows what they might do the moment my eyes are averted.  Thus I need to use my sense of touch to manage the reloading. Sure, there’s a small bit of peripheral vision being used for the reload, but for the most part, it’s touch. In fact, you can get to a point where you could do a reload with your eyes closed, because our body does like to naturally bring its hand together.

This also raises the importance of index: that something is placed in a manner that naturally aids your ability to find and complete a sequence of actions. and in this case, by sense of touch. For example, my reload magazine is positioned with the tip of the top bullet “facing front” so when my left hand grabs the magazine the tip of my index (!) finger is on the point of the bullet, which ensures the magazine is naturally aligned for the reload (no flipping the magazine around in my hand), and my hands and fingers all naturally come together and go to the magazine well at the bottom of the gun for a fast reload. It may be difficult to see in the picture to the left, but it’s there. You’re able to keep you gun’s muzzle between you and the threat, your eyes are up there on the threat, so the gun is in your peripheral vision, you feel for the magazine release with your right/shooting hand, drop the empty or problematic magazine to the ground, meantime your left/other hand is going for the fresh magazine, magazine grabbed and properly indexed, eyes still on the target, magazine brought up and seated, left/other hand racks the slide (no, you don’t use the slide lock as a slide release), and off you go. A bit of vision involved, but it’s all mostly feel, aided by proper indexing.

Another illustration of indexing is if you wear a folding knife clipped inside your pants pocket. Where do you want the knife to be? You want it as far back, as close to the “end” of the pocket as possible. Why? This is a known, established spot. You can hook your thumb anywhere inside the pocket, slide it towards the back of the pocket, and you’ll find the knife. If the knife was clipped anywhere else in the pocket, you slam your thumb into the pocket and then what? Where is the knife relative to your thumb? Do you know? Can you know? Is the time spent finding the knife time well-spent, or precious time wasted? Again, this is indexing. You can place your thumb in the pocket at any point, slide to the rear, and allow yourself to index to that spot where the knife is and off you go. The need for a knife doesn’t always involve the luxury of seeing where your knife is or even an ability to use two hands. And this isn’t just defensive use of a knife. Just mundane things like cutting open a box can go faster and smoother if you can keep your eyes on the task and let your sense of touch, with indexing, help you acquire your tools.

If you’re not using to using your sense of touch, if you’re not used to indexing, take the time to learn. Yes it’s a little uncomfortable to give up reliance upon your eyes, but if you force yourself to do it and allow yourself to go slow and learn and get better with consistent practice, AND if you allow yourself to trust your other senses, you’ll eventually get quite fluent. Being able to spin off other tasks like this to secondary threads (yeah, got my programmer-speak going here) can be a huge help towards more efficient processing and accomplishment of tasks.


Updated: Karl Rehn, wrote me a response to this correcting some stuff. I’m happy to be corrected, and let me share with you what Karl wrote. The words are Karl’s, I just retyped for formatting.

>> Because I’m practicing on keeping my eyes on the threat.

Danger Will Robinson. I have seen more people go down this wrong road with regard to reloads.

Learn to do the reload with the gun held up at nipple level, and look as little as necessary — but nobody that is good at reloading the pistol does it purely by “feel”.

Google “Travis Tomasie reload” and watch the video of his reload, which is the fastest ever recorded. He looks at the gun just enough. 

It’s a risk analysis problem. The risk of blowing the reload (empty gun, mag on the ground, lost time) is very high. The risk of getting shot because you took an extra 0.1 sec to look at the mag being seated is not going to be decreased by not looking. Why? Because you are only reloading for one of two reasons: (1) You believe there is a lull in the fight that provides you sufficient time to replace a partially spent mag with a full one. If this is the case you don’t believe you are about to shoot, thus you have to look. (2) Your gun is not capable of shooting because it’s out of ammo or has malfunctioned. In this case you are defenseless until you get the mag in the gun, and what’s critical to you in that situation is time, not awareness. If the gun isn’t shootable and a threat pops up, there is nothing you can do about it until you get the gun loaded. You should already be using the best cover available so it’s not like you are going to stop loading and duck behind cover, since you should have ducked behind cover first before starting to reload.

Looking back at what I wrote, I did give too much impression of doing things totally by feel and involving the eyes as little as possible. My mistake. I am using my eyes, but I will admit I was trying to use them as little as possible so that my eyes were being focused elsewhere. But Karl is right. Depending on the situation your focus ought to shift to the reload itself so that you can ensure a successful reload, or the problem is big enough (e.g. malfunction) it will be what requires your focus and attention. The shift of focus may be quick (that 0.1 seconds to ensure the mag is seated), but still there’s a shift.

Thank you, Karl.

2 thoughts on “Doing things by feel

  1. Learning the “feel” of things is a terrific skill to have. What if it’s dark? What if our glasses have been broken? There are circumstances sometimes beyond our control that could potentially hamper our abilities withou tthis practice.

    We teach an instinctive shooting method – it’s impressive. You can see videos of our shooting method in play at

    Incredible reloading video!

  2. Pingback: Me and my Leatherman « Stuff From Hsoi

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