By Roger Phillips, Owner and Operator of Fight Focused Concepts
As an instructor, eventually you will run up against a student that is just not getting it. In the private sector this is not that big of a problem, but if it is your job to get a problem shooter to qualify for a professional position, it can be quite a predicament. When someone’s job is on the line, the pressure of overcoming this problem can really wear on the problem shooter. Most of the time, the problem shooter can be brought around with patients and a continuing effort of working on the fundamentals of marksmanship. For a very small percentage of problem shooters this continuing effort may still not be enough. Some students just need a different approach.
As the problem shooter, trying to fight your way through your problems can be extremely frustrating. This frustration leads to an inability to do what really needs to be done…. which is to remain calm. Once the problem shooter becomes frustrated it is very difficult to turn that around. If the student has lost their confidence, the instructor is really fighting an up hill battle. So it becomes clear that we need to do two things right off of the bat. We need the shooter to remain calm and we need to establish their confidence. By taking on a completely different approach, this breaks them away from “that same old frustrating failure.” This is a good start to “remaining calm” and a brand new clean slate for their confidence.
The job of the instructor is to get the shooter inside of their comfort zone and establish the shooters confidence. Once the comfort zone and confidence is established the instructor needs to keep complete and absolute control of that comfort zone and confidence level. Over the years of dealing with problem shooters, it became perfectly clear that this method of teaching was not just good for fixing problem shooters, it was also very good for teaching new shooters.
I really like starting people off with a nice solid Modern Isosceles. In my opinion it is a much better stance for the newbie shooter. There is much less tension in this position over that of the Weaver stance, so the problem student does not tense up and tire as quickly. It lends itself to good recoil control and it gives an excellent center-line. The basic geometry of Modern Isosceles allows the shooter to make hits without even using the sights. The grip needs to be firm and with full purchase on the handgun. The two-handed thumbs forward grip gives us both of these qualities. The goal is to point in at the targeted area and press the trigger to the rear, without coming off of the targeted area. Then recover from the recoil in a consistent manner. A good stance and grip facilitates this perfectly. A poor stance and grip does not facilitate it at all.
Many of the problem shooters of smaller stature have a problem with remaining extended at line of sight for long periods of time as they work on their fundamentals. This leads to tension that is completely opposite of the remaining calm that we are looking for. We need to understand the shooters comfort zone and keep them from tensing up. Some ways to do this is by teaching and allowing a relaxed/lazy ready position. The first ready position to work with should be a relaxed/lazy low ready. The gun is safely lowered to the 45 degrees and the upper arms are resting on the shooters body. This allows safety, relaxation, and the ability to rest in-between strings of fire. Keep inside of the students comfort zone and they will be more relaxed, less tense, and tire less quickly.
OK, we have the Modern Isosceles, the thumb forward grip, and we have a relaxed low ready. Next, put a focal point on the upper thoracic cavity of the target for the student to focus on. I nice bright red neon sticker the size of a quarter is perfect. Have the shooter start at two yards. All the shooter is going to do is focus/lock in on the focal point, bring the gun up from the low ready till it intersects the line of sight and immediately take the shot. No transition of focus, no hesitation. Just bring it up and take the shot. Then recover back down to the relaxed low ready and rest. As the instructor, watch the hits. Remind the shooter to focus on the spot that the shooter wants the bullet to go. If the shot is low or high make sure the shooter is pressing the trigger right when the top of the slide intersects the line of sight. If the shot is off to the side make sure they are bringing the gun up in front of their dominant eye. If the shooter is right-handed and everything is off to the left, watch the wrist articulation and make sure that it is appropriate for the Isosceles. Repeat until the shooter simply can not miss. Add in controlled pairs, then burst of 3-4. Repeat until the shooter can not miss.
Watch carefully for recoil anticipation (low and to the left on right-handed shooters) and the shooter attempting to aim with the sights.
This is the question that will always be asked! Why does it matter if the student is target focused, over being sight focused? This all comes down to gross motor skills over fine motor skills…..being globally focused over being locally focused…..using natural ability over conditioned skill sets. This takes pressure off of the student. It dumps the “conditioned response” of sighted fire and accepts the “instinctive response” of threat focused shooting. This allows the body, eyes, and mind to do what they do thousands of times a day. It is simply more natural! Natural leads to relaxation, which leads to remaining calm, which leads directly into confidence. Hard focus on the front sight while trying to get a perfect sight picture, during the inevitable infinity pattern, can be a major stumbling block for a problem shooter. They often mash the trigger at the point that the sight picture passes over the point of aim. The old mantra “front sight, front sight…….press” is often followed up by the inevitable “NOW!” which is one of the main causes of mashing the trigger and recoil anticipation. If you give the problem shooter the time to think about the recoil anticipation…..you are going to get recoil anticipation.
The next step is “driving the gun.” Teach the student a safe/relaxed/lazy compressed ready (count three of the four count draw stroke or as soon as the hands come together.) I have a compressed ready that just rests the gun at my mid section, with the wrists and the inside of the forearms laying against the rib cage. No tension, no exertion, totally relaxed. We are now going to have the student drive the gun to the focal point. Remember that “driving the gun” is a controlled move. We have the ability to accelerate out and decelerate to extension. Drive the gun to the focal point, take the shot then recover back to compressed ready. Repeat until the student can not miss. Add in controlled pairs, burst of 3-4, and repeat until the shooter can not miss.
Remember to keep absolute control of the students comfort level and confidence level!
Time to “drive the gun” from the holster, make sure that the student is using a nice four count linear draw stroke. The focal point, the linear draw stroke, driving the gun, and taking the shot with no hesitation……these are the key factors.
At this point you should be seeing some decent success. The student should be relaxed and feeling pretty good. It is time to start moving back. The pace for moving back is up to the instructor. Remember you have now established the confidence…… you must remain in complete control of it! Moving back slowly will keep you in control. Work the low ready, the compressed ready, and from the holster as needed.
The goal is to get the shooter to easily hit everything inside of seven yards, to give them a pattern of success, to give them some confidence, to take some of the pressure off of them. You still have to work on the fundamentals of marksmanship outside of seven. But now hopefully, you have a more confident shooter, someone who now knows that they can do it. Also, someone who has built up some upper body strength due to the repetitions and someone who has learned to remain calm and not tense up. As you work on the fundamentals, as soon as the shooter gets frustrated, bring them forward and let them succeed with some threat focused shooting.
Working a problem shooter through the fundamentals can take some time. By having “inside of seven yards” down cold, this may give you the time that you need. Remind the shooter of the “importance” of inside of seven yards and how they have “the most likely” covered. Let then understand that they already have an important piece of the puzzle and the next piece (fundamentals of marksmanship) will follow as long as they remain calm, confident, and put in the work.
As instructors it is our job to help people overcome their problems. These problems do not mean that the student is anything more than someone with a problem that must be overcome. There may be events in their past that have left them recoil sensitive (a lot of shooting with a 12 gauge shotgun as a very young child, an electrical explosion in my hands, and thirty years of working a tool, where the trigger was pressed with the whole hand instead of one finger were some of my issues.) Reprogramming can be a tough job for an instructor. Here are some “less known” tricks of the trade that can make this reprogramming of a problem shooter and the teaching of a new shooter much less of a burden.
Remain calm and relaxed
Establish a pattern of success
Solidify that confidence by maintaining absolute and complete control of that confidence at all times