Point Shooting Follow-up

“I learned a ton…that will make me a better instructor.”

-SGM (Ret.) Kyle E. Lamb, Author of Green Eyes & Black Rifles

In February we published a VERY long article about the negative impacts on students when point shooting, or kinesthetic shooting, is taught as the primary shooting skill.  This follow-up is intended to clarify a few points upon which there was some confusion.

First, we fully acknowledge that the visual components of “real” shooting are more aptly described as a continuum of visual skills than as the polar opposite binary choice laid out in our previous article.  We do have some questions (currently not answers), about the relative effectiveness of attempting to develop what is effectively an infinitely dynamic skillset, versus developing and honing performance of specific skill combinations and rhythms of performance that match operational requirements. However, that is a subject for another time.

In the previous article we defined aimed fire versus kinesthetic fire (point shooting) by using examples of techniques at the opposite ends of the spectrum of visual skills. The intent of these examples wasn’t to negate the existence or value of the skills that sit in between the two extremes. Rather, it was to guide the discussion regarding the relative energy (as in burning calories and electricity) requirement for visual skill performance and the impact this has on long-term student operational performance potential.

As a factual matter, there is a continuum of visual skills that can (and should) be applied to tactical shooting.

Second, we saw some commentary about the article somewhere online that would have been hilarious if it wasn’t intended to be serious. It’s not worth responding to; however, it did highlight an area where our use of terminology may have led to some confusion, so we want to clarify that here.

When we discuss the use of visual sighting systems, we aren’t talking about some sort of physical apparatus attached to the firearm. Most firearms do indeed have some sort of sighting system attached to them; however, what we’re referring to with that terminology is use of the human visual system to align multiple points in space.

For example, on most handguns, there is a front sight post and a rear sight notch on top of the weapon.  When this apparatus is brought to eye level, the center of the target, the top of the front sight, and the central point between the two rear sight posts are all aligned with each other and with the center of the eye. Four points in space are all aligned. 

Sighting apparatus such as rear and front sight combinations, or red dot sights, make this easier to accomplish effectively and consistently. However, engineered sighting systems are not required to apply the physical/mechanical, and visuomotor skills (ie. the brain functions) required for application of a physical sighting system.  For example, the entire slide of a weapon can be used as a sighting system. A person can “manually” align the center of the rear of the slide, the center of the front of the slide, and the center of the target with the eye.

Wherever you are, you can try this out right now with a pen (or with your finger) and see how it works.  Pick up the pen and align it with a point in the distance.  You can align the center of the rear of the pen, the center of the front of the pen, and the “target” using your eye.  There’s no significant physiological difference to doing this than there is to aligning gun sights on a target—although more mental processing is certainly necessary.

This is less efficient and less effective than using a sighting apparatus such as rear/front sight combination. However, it’s still the use of a visual sighting system, albeit one that probably doesn’t work all that well, especially in compressed time frames, under stress, or when a reasonably stringent level of accuracy is required.

This is important because the main point of the previous article was about the timing of teaching point shooting techniques to students.

Practiced skill performance is driven from the human system, not from specific components of hardware, such as sights on a gun.  Without human performance, the hardware is largely irrelevant. If students, unknowingly, develop a primary shooting technique that has a poor chance of solving some important tactical problems, because that’s how an instructor taught them, we consider that to be a serious issue for the training industry.

It is certainly possible to hit a target without the use of a visual sighting system. But it depends on the target and the conditions. There comes a point, depending on a host of variables such as what the target is, how far away the target is, the state of the shooter’s vestibular system, the shooter’s kinesthetic development from the specific shooting position being used etc., where that ability stops.  Then, the use of a visual sighting (along with adequate trigger manipulation etc.) becomes necessary to solve the tactical problem.

If the necessary skills don’t “automatically” happen – chances are that they won’t ever be performed outside of a low stress training environment.

And that’s the trouble.

The challenge from a training design perspective isn’t teaching various shooting techniques, nor is it understanding which techniques are appropriate for solving specific tactical problems. (Note that there may often be more than one acceptable answer here.)  Rather, the challenge is developing the student’s skillset so that the “right” combination of techniques for solving the tactical problem are the techniques that get applied automatically in the real world.

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-Dr. Bill Lewinski
Executive Director, Force Science Institute
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Author, Training at the Speed of Life
Co-Founder of Simunition