Whenever we’re teaching new skills to students, we’re always going to push them to go faster. I know that seems wrong on the surface, but class isn’t the time to master a skill. Class is a time to learn skills, be exposed to new realms, and to get pushed outside of your box. Some people have never shot a handgun at a speed faster than they can casually plink a can off a fencepost, so pushing them to go faster is an attempt, especially in defensive pistol skills classes, to show them how fast they’re going to have to go and show them where their present skills lay in relation to certain standards of performance. It’s about showing students what to work on after they leave class using the new skills learned during the class.
If you ask people what’s more important, speed or accuracy, many will probably say accuracy. Or certainly, when they shoot you can see they’re focusing on accuracy. Then we push them to go faster, and their accuracy goes to pot, typically because they’ll slap the trigger and/or forget about good sight picture, or both, because now they’re focusing on speed and trying to get the shots off before the buzzer or because they’ve got some instructor hollering for them to go faster. So which is more important, speed or accuracy? Neither. They are both important. The world’s fastest miss isn’t going to get the job done, be it in competition or self-defense. The world’s slowest hit more likely means you got taken out, either of the competition or the fight. Neither of those are acceptable. The trouble is, the two tend to be inversely related: if you want to be accurate, you have to slow down; if you want to be fast, you’re going to lose accuracy. The trick is finding the balance that YOU can do that allows you to get acceptably fast, acceptably accurate hits. What is acceptable depends upon the context.
So how to get better at both speed and accuracy?
This isn’t THE way, it’s just one way.
First, you are going to need a timer. PACT makes some good timers. There’s Competitive Edge Dynamics. I know there are shot timer apps for smartphones, but they can vary… some aren’t the best quality, I know that recent iPhone’s (iPhone 4’s) have a noise-cancelling mic so the shot timers don’t really work so well any more. But you need a timer, else you’ll never be able to work on the speed portion of the equation.
Now, pick some sort of drill or standard. For simplicity of explanation, I’m going to pick a defensive standard of “3 shots, 3 yards, 3 seconds” in a 6″ circle. That standard is based upon the average statistics of a gunfight, and if you carry a gun for personal defense you ought to be able to set up a 6″ paper plate at 3 yards and from a concealment draw get 3 shots into that plate within 3 seconds. So our acceptable speed is 3 seconds (start from concealment, draw; end after the 3rd shot was fired). Our acceptable accuracy is all 3 hits within the 6″ circle.
If you want, shoot the drill “as written” to see how you do. Who knows, you may have a skill level that can already clean it, on demand, every time. If so, great. Then you’ll skip most of what I’m saying and move to the end where I talk about how to make it harder. If you can’t clean the drill, don’t be hard on yourself. Consider it your current ability, mark it down, and set a goal to improve.
Now, remove the par time from the equation. You’ll shoot the drill (3 shots at 3 yards into a 6″ circle), with no time limit. Remove the pressure of time, just focus on being able to clean the drill, consistently, on demand. This is working on the accuracy leg. Work to get it so you CAN shoot the drill. If you are unable to shoot the drill at all, then there’s something else that needs addressing, perhaps you don’t yet have the fundamental skills necessary — give us a call, we’ll help you out.
Once you are able to shoot the drill with no time limits, now you should time yourself. This isn’t adding a timer to pressure yourself, rather, this is merely putting a stopwatch against what you are already shooting. See how long it takes you to shoot the drill. Perhaps it takes you 5 seconds to shoot this drill. Fine. Don’t sweat the details or agonize over “sucking, because it’s not under published par time”. This is what you can do, this is where your present balance of speed and accuracy lies. That’s fine, because you are working to improve it. So, focus on that improvement.
Now that you know how long it takes you, that becomes your first par time. So it took you 5.0 seconds? Set the timer’s par time for 5.0 seconds and now shoot the drill against the buzzer. You should have no problem shooting it because you’ve already demonstrated you can shoot it in that time. However, now with the knowledge of the timer pressure on you, it’s going to mess with your head and you will perform differently. Don’t. Remind yourself that 5 seconds is 5 seconds. Just shoot it exactly like you always have and you’ll be fine. You may also find that you shot it in less time and surprise yourself. If that’s the case, that’s fine. If you shoot the drill less than 100%, then start to analyze what you’re doing wrong.
Once you demonstrate to yourself you can shoot within that par time, now it’s time to lower the par time. This begins work on the speed leg. So you shot it in 5.0 seconds? Lower the par time to 4.5 seconds and try again. If you’re able to do that on demand, consistently, repeatedly, within the par time and 100% clean? Drop the par time again. Eventually you’ll get to a point where you cannot shoot it 100% clean within the time, so you’ll stay at that par time and analyze why you’re not getting the job done. Are you too slow clearing your concealment garment? Too slow getting the gun out and getting off the first shot? Presentation too slow? A shot timer that records each shot is useful here so you can see things like how long it takes from start buzzer to first shot; how fast your “split times” are (time between each shot). There are zillions of things that could be in play here, no way I can analyze within the scope of an article. But this is how it goes.
Note that there may be multiple issues to resolve, and it may take fixing a couple small things to add up to get you there. For instance, shaving 0.2 seconds off your draw and getting your split times from 0.40 to 0.35 may add up to enough improvement. It’s all dependant upon your particular situation. But you need to be able to analyze what’s going on.
Not only does a timer help with analysis, have someone watch you. It’s generally better if the eyes upon you are knowledgeable ones. You could take video of yourself and post it for folks to critique. There’s always taking classes or private lessons with instructors. Yes, we KR Training instructors are open to private instruction, just contact us.
But this is the general cycle of things. You have to pick a drill/standard because you need something you can repeat. You need to time yourself and keep clean targets so you can measure your progress. Consider keeping a diary and record of what you’re doing. Start by shooting the drill with no concern for time just to ensure you can shoot it; if you can’t, analyze why and work to correct. If you can, then time how long it takes you to cleanly shoot the drill and make that your starting par time. From there, work to decrease your par time. What you should see is your speed increases, your accuracy decreases. Eventually accuracy decreases too much, so you stop going faster and focus on the accuracy. When accuracy improves, you go back to working on speed. It’s an alternating series.
Once you’re able to nail a drill and the drill is no longer challenging, change the drill. Lower the par time. Make the target smaller. Shoot from a further distance. Shoot it one-hand-only. Add in a mandatory reload. There’s numerous things you can do to work on your skills and continue to challenge yourself to improve.
Finally, remember to be patient. Improvement takes time and dedication. You will get there.