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Fear of Failure and Simple Self-Defense Instruction

October 16, 2018

Are we brave enough to learn about ourselves?

My usual trip to the shooting range is to stand at a bench and shoot at a stationary paper target a few yards away. I don’t think we learn very much from doing that. If you walked down the firing line and asked most of us, we’d say we are practicing for self-defense. I don’t believe it. I think we stand in a line and shoot at paper precisely so we won’t feel embarrassed by our performance. Our self-image is so sensitive that we can’t suffer disappointment. In addition, we don’t know what we don’t know, so we tend to overestimate our skills and underestimate what we could learn.

Children fail all the time, but it seems we’ve lost that skill as adults. I went shooting with a friend, and the experience drove home that particular lesson.

Let’s call my friend R. The first thing R and I did was walk toward the targets we’d set up at the end of the range. R has carried his handgun for years. The targets were as ordinary as I could make them. They were blank pieces of light colored office paper stapled onto larger pieces of brown cardboard.

As we were walking, I asked R to shoot at the targets whenever he wanted to. I said, “Those targets on the left are your family. That target on the right is a bad guy who is pointing a gun at them. Walk forward until you can shoot the bad guy.”

R did, and he missed. My friend reminded me of these obvious lessons.

-The real world doesn’t come with a flashing sign that tells us when to draw our pistol and shoot. You knew that, but we seldom exercise the decision to fire our gun. I think knowing when to shoot is an important skill.
-The real world doesn’t have range markers on the ground that tell us how far away the target is. You have to judge distances for yourself, and you also have to judge how you’re feeling that minute. Knowing when you can hit a target..and when you can’ pretty important, don’t you think?
-Perhaps the biggest takeaway was that we won’t have 20 minutes to practice before we have to protect the people we love. Yeah. It sounds obvious when I say it that way, but we remember our best shots at the range rather than our first shots. I have that bias too.

We remember our best shots at the range rather than our first shots.

R moved closer and shot again. This time he hit his target. When it was my turn, I walked up closer than R did before I fired on the piece of paper and got my hit. With each step I traded the risk that my family might be hurt while I gained confidence that I could hit my target.
You could make a good case for shooting early or late, and both sides have good arguments.

My concern isn’t that you are a great shot or a poor shot,
but that you should learn what you can do.
Does that make sense to you?

My friend, R, and I kept learning. We walked forward until our feet were at the edge of the berm and there were no targets in front of us at all. The only thing we had to do was draw our handguns out of the holsters, present the guns at full extension, and fire. In contrast to the first exercise, this time we could ignore the sights and the targets.

Let me share the lessons learned without giving you the details.
-Learn how quickly you can move and still perform flawlessly. That “answer” is particular to you.
-Slow and perfect practice leads to perfect performance.
-You need someone to watch you as you speed up or you will introduce errors into your technique.
-Don’t make excuses and try to ignore your mistakes. Let your mistakes talk to you so you learn from them.
-You are not really ready for self-defense until you can quickly and reliably present your firearm in an operating condition. If you can’t do that after repeated practice, then maybe you’re carrying the wrong gun even though you’ve carried it for years.
-Don’t make excuses if your firearm malfunctions.

In this exercise, the observer is a better judge than the performer. Not only does an instructor see things that I miss, but he doesn’t make excuses for me. Yes, I’m as human as the next person.

If this sounds stressful to you, then consider we were standing still and facing a mountain of dirt that wasn’t shooting back.

We went on to shoot other easy targets. We put one target a few yards in front of the other one. All we had to do was lean to the side to shoot around the near target to hit the distant one. We were not moving more than a half step.

Merely leaning to the side takes practice compared to standing upright at the firing line the way we are probably used to shooting. The exercise sounds simple, but we both became better as we practiced. The secondary lesson we learned as we shot was to use cover rather than stand in the open and be a target. I’m sure you’ve heard that before, but when was the last time you practiced it?

My friend was satisfied with what he learned. I appreciate his bravery because he was eager to find out what he could do and find out what he needed to practice. In my mind, that sets him miles ahead of many gun owners. Have you noticed that about us?

Most gun owners don’t practice. Most gun owners don’t have their carry permit. I think it is great to see anyone who wants to keep learning.

Please notice that we never used a timer or a scoring target to add to the pressure of performance. We could take all the time we thought we needed, or we could move closer to the target to get hits. The only expectations on our performance were the ones we brought with us. Unless you compete on a regular basis, that small amount of performance pressure is probably enough for a first lesson. Let’s walk before we run.

Judging by what I see at the range and at competition, most of us would rather not know how well we shoot. We want to keep our fantasy self-image unblemished.

Don’t we owe it to ourselves to find out how well we perform? Don’t we owe it to our family?

Learning how well we shoot isn’t hard to do. Step away from the square shooting range and go find out. That is what instructors are for.

I’ll share a little secret with you if you promise not to tell; self-defense teachers like to be inventive with their instruction. Individual instruction or a small group-class lets them do that.

Go live a little..and learn a lot.The original article is here.

I gave you 1000 words. Please leave a comment and share this article with a friend. RM

9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2018 6:02 pm

    A cold dose of reality can be a scary thing, can’t it? I was embarrassed at how badly I shot the last time I went! I don’t carry for self defense and would have to improve tremendously to feel like I was safe to carry and could shoot and hit what I aimed at. That was a sobering thought when I was faced with how badly I actually shot.


    • October 16, 2018 8:31 pm

      Mark, you don’t need to be a great shooter to take a class. If you are having problems then that is all the more reason to take instruction.

      You can carry concealed as long as you shoot within your limitations.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Betty Peeler permalink
    October 16, 2018 11:05 pm

    I can shoot and hit my target pretty good…yes in close quarters…at least my home and business I’m confident in my ability to hit my target. My issue stems from an incident that happened several years ago…I had our youngest daughter and niece at home with me. My husband drove a truck…Iwe live in a very rural area…was on the phone with him as usual at 8:30 or so. I had let our dog out the front door to go to the bathroom as I usually did. Opened the door to check on Peanut because I heard “popping” sounds outside. He came rushing in, tail tucked, about knocked me down! I stepped outside on front porch, mind you still on the phone with my husband, and heard gunshots fired saw neighbor (renter) on front porch firing gun away from us saw fire come out of the handgun muzzle! Then heard bullets zinging thru the air hitting the ground within 15’ of our daughter’s room! He had realized I was watching and was on the phone and started shooting in our direction!! My first thought was “oh hell no!!! I’ve got a gun too bitch!! (357 revolver ole Betsy would have totally backed me up!!!) Then split second remembered I’m not that stupid I’m not going to jail for this dumbass!!! Telling my husband who is miles away I’ve got to go I’ve got to call the cops because someone is shooting at us I’ll call you back!!! Cops came checked and of course he had stopped shooting they saw evidence of shell casings at both front and backdoor but weren’t here to witness it. They left, I had to take my niece home as we passed house they left with us! Followed us down road on our ass til we turned off on road we needed. My niece and youngest daughter were scared to say the least!!! I told them not to worry they wouldn’t get us on road as I was VERY familiar with it and all it’s twist and turns, I drove it everyday and wasn’t afraid I would definitely had run their asses off road!!! Got her home safely… but that idiot drove to a party in the county that night, pulled gun and ended up shooting someone there, thankfully only in the ass!! But still!!! Police came back surrounded trailer only to find he didn’t return, eventually found him couple counties over! My point is when do you decide defending is ok? Would I go to jail to protect my family?!? In a heartbeat!!! My husband makes fun of me and tells me I think I’m a bad ass and can take a life but I don’t understand the consequences…I tell him I totally do but what I couldn’t live with is knowing some bastard killed or raped my girls or grandkids or anyone who I loved and I didn’t do anything to stop it!!! That reality would haunt me!!! I don’t practice near enough…lol at least that’s what my son in law tells me!! He always wants to target practice!! But I’m confident in my aim I’m just not confident in when it’s ok to fire at a real person! Always hope that when the time really comes I’ll know it’s ok!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kap permalink
    October 18, 2018 9:21 am

    I believe it’s neither, have been target shooting for a number of years mostly .22, usually not at a stuffy range but a Sand pit with more reactive targets plastic bottles which you try too shoot only the top off at 10 yards, soup cans, make them dance and Balloons hit the target beside it without popping the big Balloon! never glass, always police the area,


    Liked by 1 person

  4. October 23, 2018 12:28 pm

    What’s the opposite of Dunning-Kruger? Because I think I have that. I know there’s so much I don’t know that sometimes I doubt myself. I’m a decent shooter. Some would say better than average (depends on who you’re basing your “average” on), but I definitely err on the side of “I’m not good enough” than “the force will help me make this 25 yard shot that I normally can’t make”.

    I just finished taking a week-long class in which I was the only civilian in a class of cops, and I wish I’d had video of what I was doing so I could critique myself. My “coach” (another classmate) either wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing or didn’t have the experience to know what I could be doing better, even when I asked point-blank how I could improve. My frustration came because I *want* to improve – I like pushing my limits and finding out what I can and can’t do – yet the person I was shooting with wasn’t as invested as I was.


    • October 23, 2018 2:47 pm

      GD, is sounds like you have the usual self-doubts. I’m glad you went anyway. I was talking to a very experienced firearms instructor the other day. She is a much better shooter and instructor than I am. She still has severe anxiety before a training class when she is the student.

      You and I have both had the great experience of working with a good training partner. Having a good partner lets us concentrate on performance while our partner selects the one thing we should work on next. I’m sorry you didn’t have that with your last class. That means you get to go again. (wink)

      Thanks for writing in.



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