Discussing Minimum Competency Drills

Karl Rehn is guest hosting the Handgun World Podcast, and in Episode 443, he and I discuss a topic near to our hearts: Minimum Competency, and drills for them. You can listen to the episode here, or anywhere you can get podcasts (like iTunes).

Karl came up with a list of 10 drills, arranged by scale. I added a couple more. It’s a good corpus of drills you can use to assess your level of defensive handgun competency, as well as use to maintain and improve skill level.

If you don’t have time to listen to the episode, you can read Karl’s write-up where he lists the 10+2 drills.

On my phone, I keep a PDF of drills that I like to run. Doesn’t mean I’m a master at all the drills, just they are ones I consider to be important to my skill and practice. In there I have drills like the 5×5, 3 Seconds or Less, 3M Test, various Rangemaster tests (Instructor, Core Skills, Bullseye), FBI qual, BAFTE qual, The Test, Super Test, Walk-Back, Gunsite 250 & 350. I also keep some in there for metrics and reference, like Gabe White’s Standards, MAG-40/LFI, and the TX LTC test.

Start making your own collection. Strive to put in a good variety that covers the depth and breadth of skills relevant to your context. Put in ones that push you, that expose your flaws and weaknesses, and that can be used over time to help you measure progress.

Ed Head’s Practice Drill

A little while ago, Karl and I went out and shot a drill from Gunsite Instructor Ed Head. It’s a good drill in our continued study of Minimum Competency.

Here’s a video of us demonstrating it:

And here’s Karl’s analysis. Karl has a few suggestions to make it a stronger standard, and how you can use the drill in your own practice to improve your skills.

More Perspectives on Minimum Competency

Four years ago I wrote about Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol. Since then, I’ve had additional writings on the topic. I’m not the only one that cares about this topic. A couple of days ago I saw a summary of a presentation from John Corriea of Active Self Protection and was going to write on it, but Mark Luell over at Growing up Guns beat me to it!

In fact, Mark’s write-up is even better, so I’ll just link to his article: Meta: Critical Skills and Goals for Personal Protection.

In his meta-article, Mark examines the findings from various trainers:

What’s good to see is the overlap. People who study and research this area, and what their conclusions are – and while we do different work, how we tend to reach the same conclusions.

As Tom Givens would say, “That’s what we call a clue.”

Much of this data isn’t new to me, but sometimes seeing the same data presented in a new manner helps you view the data in a new light. Mark’s post did that for me.

Reading Claude’s findings really helps to hit home what is and isn’t important in the context of self-defense firearms skills. For example, retrieving the handgun is a pretty important skill, so however you carry/store your firearm, you better be able to retrieve it successfully. Reloading? Not so much (it’s arguable since you have to load, reload, and unload a firearm just to use it, so long as you do that in a disciplined manner that’s all you really need).

I always love watching John’s videos and analysis. It’s one thing the magic of CCTV, security cameras, camera phones, and YouTube (DailyMotion, Worldstar, etc.) has brought to us: real fights, real incidents, and we can see how they work, how they unfold, how brutal they can be, the realities of what happens, and what we can learn from it. I think John’s collection has done a lot to dispel false notions and beliefs about what goes on, and really give people a good dose of reality.

I regret missing an opportunity to train with Darryl and look forward to that opportunity. There’s a lot of good and unique stuff in Darryl’s notes, but one that stood out to me is the split times. I’ve wondered about doing a long block of training forcing myself to shoot to that standard and seeing what it did for me. I think it would be quite insightful.

John Hearne is becoming the E.F. Hutton of the firearms training community: when he talks, you should listen. His examination and study of human performance is a higher-order topic, but a vital one towards really understanding and working to maximize performance. It helps steer training, both as instructors with curriculum and individuals determining what skills to focus on. I especially like the last point about training emotional control.

Give a read to Mark’s meta-post. Seek these people out. Read what they write. Take classes from them if you can. You will be better for it.

As seen in The Tactical Wire

Looks like my series on Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol got featured in the July 25, 2017 issue of The Tactical Wire.

As well, a nice nod to my two primary mentors, Karl Rehn and Tom Givens.

Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol – Addressing Assumptions

I’d like to revisit my Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol series. And just like my “Revisited Again” was inspired by Claude Werner, so too is this revisiting – Addressing Assumptions. As well, it comes from some recent work we’ve been doing at KR Training with curriculum revision.

The original article series was primarily focused around gun and shooting portion of the equation. That was a reasonable focus, but if you look a little deeper into the conclusion you can see there are precursors/prerequisites that are assumed or taken for granted.

This would be things like basic gun manipulations: how to load a gun, how to unload a gun, how to load and unload a magazine (and that it’s a “magazine”, not a “clip”), basic range etiquette, how to practice effectively, how to seek out good training and instruction.

One thing I admire about Claude is how he often focuses and finds ways to work with people in less than ideal circumstances. For example, many gun ranges do not allow people to draw from a holster, or it may be impossible to use a shot timer due to noise levels. Claude often works and formulates curriculum and drills to work within these constraints.

In a recent discussion on minimum competency, Claude structured a drill with a loose structure like:

  • Load 7 rounds into the magazine
  • Load the gun
  • Shoot 6
  • Unload the gun

While at first glance it seems odd to enumerate the steps of loading the magazine, loading the gun, and unloading the gun – and some may desire to gloss over those steps – they’re actually quite an important part of the drill. They are giving the student practice at loading and unloading, they give the instructor a chance to observe the student performing these operations to ensure they are doing it correctly and safely.

When discussing a topic like “minimum competency”, it’s important we mind our assumptions so we do not overlook the complete set of skills necessary for competency.

Minimums aren’t enough

A permit class isn’t training…a permit class isn’t practice.  A permit class is the bare minimum information that state bureaucrats think you need to be able to safely load, unload and carry a pistol, in legal locations, in the state in which you reside.  If you want to actually LEARN how to use that gun, you’re going to need training.  You don’t have to look far on this site to find great places to train, that will actually prepare you for what you will really encounter on the streets and parking lots of America.  Even if you think you, “know all there is to know,” about defensive pistolcraft, shooting under the supervision of a competent instructor who can see things you cannot, relative to technique, is invaluable.  I highly recommend you seek out competent instruction…getting the, “paper,” is just a legal hoop you have to jump through!

Dr. Sherman House

Practicing by the Odds

When I read “The Bell-Curve: Shooting Practice by the Odds” over at the Growing Up Guns blog, it bore a striking resemblance to the article series I wrote last year on “Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol“. Just shows that great minds think alike. 🙂

We took similar approaches: look at the realities of private citizen gunfights (vs. military or law enforcement engagements, which are a different context), see what actually happens in them, and thus what has the highest probability of happening. Based upon that, it makes sense for those of us with limited training budget (time, money) to at least initially focus our skills in those areas. I mean, if no encounter ever uses weak-hand-only behind-the-back while hanging from the rafters shooting skills… is that really something you should spend 90% of your practice time on? Instead, if 90% of encounters involve being able to draw from concealment, get acceptable hits, in a small area, from close range, quickly, with both hands… maybe that’s where you should focus your training time.

It’s not to say other skills should be ignored, it’s just a matter of prioritization due to the fact we are all limited on time and money. So, spend that time wisely.

We arrive at some slightly different conclusions, and provide a different set of drills (tho we both started with Gila Hayes’ drill). But ultimately we’re saying the same thing in different ways.

I encourage you to give the DefensiveDaddy’s article a read. It’s further perspective on this important topic.

Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol – Revisited Again

I just re-read an article from Claude Werner on “Practice priorities for the Armed Citizen“. (h/t Greg Ellifritz). As I was reading it, it reminded me of my article series on “Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol“. I did revisit the series a few months back, but Claude’s article gave me a few more things to think about, and perhaps revise/refine in my suggestions for practice and skills progression.

Claude speaks about a progression, a “where do I go from here?” sort of thing. Claude offers his own suggestions, like the NRA Defensive Pistol Qualification. But what really got me was pointing out a key problem most people have when it comes to live fire practice:

Most people have to limit their livefire practice to indoor ranges where drawing from the holster is not allowed. This presents an issue to those who carry pistol in holsters. There are solutions, though.

Indeed this is a problem. I’ve gotten quite spoiled at KR Training and with the host of good ranges around Austin where you can do things like practice drawing from a holster. Of course, there are still those people that go to one of the local indoor ranges that have these restrictions, and of course others around the country tend to have these restrictions as well. I overlooked that reality. Claude offers:

Like many of my colleagues, for a long time I said the hard part of the drawstroke is establishing grip. I’ve changed my opinion on that. The hard part of the drawstroke is getting the pistol indexed on the target enough to get a good hit with the first shot. John Shaw, a World Champion shooter, clued me in to this many years ago. Note that I didn’t say a ‘perfect’ hit.

Indexing the pistol to the target (presentation) is easily practiced from a high ready position starting at the pectoral muscle of the body’s dominant side. Starting this way is not generally a problem at an indoor range. And since I recommend practicing one shot per presentation, the ‘no rapid fire’ limitation at many indoor ranges isn’t an issue either.

This is one of those smack your head because you wish you could have had a V-8 sort of moments. What Claude writes is so true. The press-out, the presentation, whatever you want to call it, it’s the hardest part and such a vital skill. When you draw? You then must press-out. After a reload? You must press out. Clear a malfunction? You must press out. The press out is such a vital skill (it’s a key thing stressed in so many of the KR Training courses). And yes, you can practice this at the indoor ranges. You can start from that high, compressed ready position (step 3 of the 4-step drawstroke), and press out and break one shot. While you might end up eventually moving fast in doing this, your single-shots will still be “slow” relative to each other (i.e. you’re not double-tapping) and thus no range rules broken. So so so true, and so important.

Thank you Claude for my “V-8 moment”. Regardless if you take a progression like Claude recommends or I recommend, the underlying issue remains the same: that you’ll use some particular course of fire (e.g. TX CHL test), assess your skills, then focus on improving the areas you identified as weak. For example, my last live-fire practice session I shot numerous drills not so much to shoot the drills (i.e. throw lead in a semi-organized manner), but to exercise the fundamental skills I consider important and identify what I was doing well and what I needed work on. I saw I needed to move faster, and doing a lot of one-shot draws are in my future. So yes, working that press-out is in my future.

Another thing Claude touched on.

…to get a good hit with the first shot…. Note that I didn’t say a ‘perfect’ hit.


What I like about it most is that it is a 100 percent standard, not 70 or 80 percent like a qualification course. We need to accustom ourselves to the concept that if we shoot at a criminal, ALL the rounds we fire must hit the target. That’s being responsible.

These remind me of my concept of “(un)acceptable hit“. I just prefer that phrasing over “good hit” or “miss”, because like Claude said, it’s not necessarily a “perfect” hit. It’s also understanding that all the rounds must hit what we need it to hit; we must make acceptable hits.

Thanx, Claude!

Standards of Performance

Karl emailed the following to me. He said:

I put this together for Kathy Jackson to use as part of her talk at
the AG&AG conference next week. If you want to use it on your blog, go ahead.

It’s going to become part of a larger article I’m putting together based on my slides from the Polite Society talk.

I asked what the greater context of this was, given the percentages. Karl said:

Kathy is trying to show the AG&AG Facilitators (club leaders) some points along the path to instructor level skill, or at least reasonable competence.

So with that, here’s what Karl provided (reformatted for presentation). Karl’s stuff is blockquoted, and I added some additional comments in between.

A reasonable skills progression to recommend:

0. Purchase a shooting timer. The Pocket Pro I is the ‘best buy’ on the low end of timers, and the easiest to operate. Without a shooting timer, you can’t fully measure performance.

Note that there are some cheaper options too, in the form of “shot timer” apps for smartphones (both iPhone and Android). Your mileage may vary with them however, just due to limitations of the hardware microphone being able to pick things up. IMHO it’s not an unreasonable way to start, but long-term you’re going to want to pick up a dedicated and proper shot timer.

1. 100% on the Texas CHL test shot using an IDPA or IPSC target, not a B-27. IDPA/IPSC has a smaller A-zone. Shooting 100% on Texas CHL is basically 25% of GM.

Note: when Karl gives “percent of GM” he’s referring to IPSC/USPSA Grandmaster-level. This isn’t to say you need to shoot at that level, but it gives you some idea of where things lie along the continuum.

2. Learn to draw from an open carry holster and be consistent i your shot to shot timing.

Bill Drill = par time of 5 seconds at 7 yards with all A’s on IPSC or IDPA target. That’s a 40% goal.

Aside: just a few weeks ago, Bill Wilson himself (creator of the “Bill Drill”) discussed a new version of the Bill Drill, called simply enough “Bill Drill 2“.

3. Learn to do a speed reload. Practice “Four Aces” with a par time of 7 seconds, which is 37%.

4. Learn a slide lock reload. Practice the FAST drill. Set a par time of 12 seconds, from open carry. This is a 40% goal.

5. Learn how to draw from concealment, practice shooting one handed. Shoot a perfect score (100 points) on “Three Seconds or Less“. That’s a 50% goal.

6. Learn how to clear malfunctions. Practice the “Farnam Drill“. Set a par time of 15 seconds, which is around 50%.

Finally, shoot the IDPA Classifier (also found here) with a goal of shooting at least 160 seconds (162 is 40%, 130 seconds is 50%).

Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol – Revisited

I’d like to revisit a series I wrote some months ago about “Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol“.

After presenting the series at the 2nd Annual SDS Conference, I looked at how I did and coupled that with some feedback I received from an attendee whose opinion I greatly value (thanx, Sam!). His assessment and feedback reinforced my own thoughts on my performance, and with that, I figured it was right to revisit some things.


The presentation itself? I thought I could have done better. I realized as I was putting the presentation together that I had organized it well for serialized presentation on the blog, but that didn’t lend so well to a public speaking forum. Alas, I didn’t have time to revise the presentation, so I presented it with only minor adjustment. It went over alright, but I know there was structure I could have improved.

One of the biggest parts? I spent a good deal of time talking about defining minimum standards, but not enough on how one can go about achieving them. Again, this worked well for the serialized blog presentation, but wasn’t as engaging for a listening audience.

I also realized, I never explicitly defined a drill or other test that helps one assess meeting those minimum standards. I implied it to be the “3 Seconds or Less” drill, but as it stands now? Well….

On Minimum Standards

If you haven’t, go back and read the original article so you can be aware of the foundation.

In the end, I think “minimum competency for defensive pistol skills” lies with the ability to:

  • Draw from concealment
    • Perhaps with movement (sidestep) on the draw)
  • Make multiple, acceptable hits
  • In a small area
  • From close range
    • Think “within a car length” (0-5 yards)
  • Quickly
    • 3 seconds or less
  • Using both hands
    • Enables multiple acceptable hits, quickly

Skills beyond that (one-handed shooting, reloading, malfunction remedy) are useful but above minimal. And of course, both safety and etiquette are expected.

Remember: this is about “minimal”. Put it this way. You have a friend whose crazy ex is now stalking them, threatening to do them harm. They have the restraining order, but they know how useful that is so they choose to get a gun. You have an afternoon to get them some basic skills. What is most vital for them to learn how to do? That’s what I’m talking about.

So yes, I was figuring the “3 Seconds or Less” drill was a good answer to this question. But now? Not so much.

Karl has evolved the drill. One change was in the ordering of the course of fire, merely to facilitate running the drill (eased the ammo and reload requirements so you could more easily run it with semi-autos or revolvers). That sort of change doesn’t really matter towards answering the question, and frankly it’s a good revision.

But Karl also changed the content of the drill. For example, in the current version of the drill there’s a reload, some walking backwards while shooting, and a turning draw; none of these were present in the original version of the drill.

This is why I think this drill no longer answers the question: it involves skills that are above minimal. This makes sense for the context in which Karl uses it: as a core test for KR Training’s “Defensive Pistol Skills” course progression. However, it is doing more than minimal, so it’s not strictly the correct answer for “minimum competency”.

That said, I’ve maintained that minimum competency is not good enough. You need to work to a higher standard (that Paul Ford comment about 70% of your worst day). I would say the current “3 Seconds or Less” drill is a good “higher standard” to work towards. Other good “higher standards” would be:

But again, this is higher. We’re talking minimal.

A Possible Minimal Drill?

As much as I hate to say it, I think the Texas CHL test COULD be it.

But it needs work.

Here’s the drill:

  • 3 yards
    • 1 shot, 2 sec., 5x
    • 2 shots, 3 sec., 5x
    • 5 shots, 10 sec., 1x
  • 7 yards
    • 5 shots, 10 sec., 1x
    • 2 shots, 4 sec., 1x
    • 3 shots, 6 sec., 1x
    • 1 shot, 3 sec., 5x
    • 5 shots, 15 sec., 1x
  • 15 yards
    • 2 shots, 6 sec., 1x
    • 3 shots, 9 sec., 1x
    • 5 shots, 15 sec., 1x

Here’s how it could be changed to make it a better test of minimum competency:

  • Needs to be shot from concealment
    • Current test has you working off a bench, and shooting from a ready position. Unrealistic.
    • Must shoot from concealment, whatever your chosen carry and concealment method would be. If that’s from a hip holster under your shirt, fine. Pocket carry, fine. If that’s from a purse, fine.
  • Use a better target
    • The B-27 is like hitting a barn wall. Furthermore, it’s not anatomically correct.
    • Use a target like an IPSC or IDPA target. There are a host of such targets out there. The key is a target that provides a smaller “acceptable hit” zone, and that is anatomically correct.
    • Make scoring more difficult. It’s “hit or miss”, “acceptable or unacceptable”. There is no graduated scoring scale, it either is or is not. If it’s on a line, if it’s questionable, score it unacceptable. 90% minimum score, or better, 100%.
  • Do not adjust the listed par times.
    • Having to shoot from concealment adds enough time to make the published par times more difficult.
    • This could be debated, and probably debated per-string. Like the first string (3 yards, 1 shot, 2 seconds) is probably sufficient, but the last 3 yard string (5 shots, 10 seconds), should that time be lowered? Probably, but this is splitting hairs at this point. Keep it simple and keep the test as written. These other modifications are more important.
  • The 15 yard strings are debatable.
    • That’s a pretty long car…
    • If I was using my above example of needing to get a friend some quick skills in an afternoon, I’d focus on the 3 yards, then on the 7 yards; I’d skip the 15 yards.

Shooting the TX CHL test with these changes (call it “TX-CHL++”, that’s “Texas CHL plus plus”) doesn’t make you any sort of bad-ass gunfighter, but I think it does a fair job at addressing the minimum requirements.

Remember: the intent of trying to establish “minimum competency” is because we, as humans, tend to overestimate our skills and abilities. We tend to think we have the skills, that we’ll handle ourselves just fine when the flag flies. It’s better to test yourself against standards such as these to see if you really do or do not. It’s better to have a dose of reality now, when you can afford it and can then work to remedy any shortcomings.

How to get there

So you’ve shot some tests and determined you need some work. How to get there?

After talking with Sam, I felt like maybe there should be a program to help you out. Like when doing all this weight lifting, a program like Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program is a great way to get going and address a lot of things. Could such a program be devised for shooting? I think so. Look at the books and DVD’s from Mike Seeklander. He takes a bit of a different approach, but that could certainly get you there.

I think in most regards it’s going to come down to the individual. What is your learning style like? Are you self-motivated?  Do you have enough to be able to self-diagnose and improve? In the beginning, we all need good teachers, and there are good schools and instructors out there. Take advantage of those opportunities to have a teacher, a mentor. There’s a lot of DVD product coming out that can be a help for sure, but I’ve found that those tend to be most useful to folks that already have a clue. You don’t have a be a master, but a rank beginner is going to get a lot more from having a real instructor looking over their shoulder, that can see precisely what’s going on and offer ways to correct, improve, and progress.

You have to practice the things you don’t want to practice. You have to be willing to push yourself outside your comfort zone. And I think another key factor is having a tangible goal. You can have a lofty goal, then break it up into smaller milestones. Perhaps it starts with shooting the TX-CHL++ clean with no time limits. Then you work towards the time-limits. Then you pick a harder standard, like the Farnam Drill, with a 15 second par, then 14 second. As you work, you’ll find where your weaknesses are and use dry fire practice to improve those. And so on. Be willing to be patient, but work consistently.

In the end, the desire is improvement. That we understand what “minimum acceptable” is so we can ensure we’re at least that, but then work to exceed it. Set a new level, then rise above it. And so on, and so on.