What’s Outside Your Window?

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

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

We’ve now been writing and posting articles for over two years. In that time, one of the really interesting (and educational—for us) things that’s happened is that we get an opportunity to not only receive feedback, but also to engage in discussion with people who criticize, question, and disagree with what we’ve said, sometimes vehemently.

Feedback methods and quality vary. However, sometimes it’s razor-sharp and genuinely very interesting.  We have had some fantastic and extremely educational discussions with some really good, experienced shooters and armed professionals, many of which have occurred off the public forums.

As an aside, if you have a thick skin, this is a really good way to learn, not only from other people’s experiences but also to learn more about concepts you think you already know well—because you often have to explain them differently (and/or better) than you did originally.

One of the most consistent themes we have noticed in talking to others, both online and in person, over years of being active in the industry and as armed professionals is that people’s opinions tend to be almost completely shaped by their own set of experiences, or by experiences relayed by other people who they admire.  There are no surprises here, of course, as we just described people in general for just about any subject matter.

It seems to us, however, that the specific subject matter involved in this industry, the experiences that often accompany it, as well as the types of people who gravitate into this sphere make these effects especially pronounced with shooters, particularly in the “defensive” or “tactical” side of the house.

It’s interesting how different the competition side is in this regard.

With competition—there’s no hiding.  There’s an empirical score for whatever competitive discipline you’re participating in with an unmistakable hierarchy of performance. Everybody can see it and measure it.  If you want to move up the hierarchy from where you’re at—you must find ways to change yourself so you can do so.

With defensive/combative shooting however, things are a lot less defined and the waters quickly get pretty murky. Emotional attachments also seem to skyrocket.

In competition, emotional attachment to a beloved concept or technique only lasts as long as said belief or method produces the desired result. Everyone is held to the same—clearly defined and clearly visible standard competitively. A steel plate is a steel plate. An A-zone is an A zone. 15 yards is 15 yards. One second is one second.

It doesn’t matter if the shooter is a seasoned national-level competitive champion or a first-time shooter still in junior high-school. The standards and measure of performance are what they are. Hit it or miss it. It’s on you and you can’t hide it, BS it, or fake it—not even to yourself.

When we move into the tactical/defensive realm, this isn’t the case, even with respect to the ultimate “test” of performance—an actual combative use of a weapon. Because, the reality is that performance requirements for success in the real-world vary greatly. 

The definitions of success do too.  Consider the following example:

I read a fascinating discussion some time ago between an aimed-fire advocate and a point shooting advocate. Both passionately argued their position, presented experiences, presented data, and presented quotations and references based on others’ experiences.

In the course of the dialogue, the point shooting aficionado brought up some experiences relayed to him by a highly experienced armed professional who had apparently been in some significant number of gun battles and was still around to tell the tale. 

I don’t exactly recall the specifics (nor is it relevant to the point of this article), but it was something to the effect of nine gunfights, killed five of the opponents, and wounded the other four.

“There it is,” the point shooter exclaimed (paraphrasing from memory here of course), “Proof!  This stuff works. That guy swears by point shooting and you can’t argue with that kind of experience and performance. It’s the best way to go.”

Without making any commentary here about tactics or techniques, I recall my own thoughts as I read that part of the discussion.  Maybe. If failing to kill people almost half the time you try really hard to—with a gun—is a performance standard that we should all strive to achieve.

The point of this article is not to knock anybody, anybody’s experience, any techniques, any methods of shooting, nor any tactics. Nor is it to suggest that any of us here would fare better in those same circumstances. To that officer (we have no idea about the actual identity of the commentator or the officer who was mentioned), should you ever read this, thanks for all you’ve done. We would love to pick your brain; hit us up anytime through the website or social media, dinner is on us.

Our reason for bringing this discussion up is to highlight the point that, even in real-world gun battles, performance standards with respect to the shooting and tactics are a lot less empirical and a lot less defined than one might initially think.  Real-world events vary in almost innumerable ways and the only consistent performance metric is who’s still vertical after the fact—which may be as much dumb luck as it is anything else in any given situation.

Some people, when that moment of truth arrives, face off against a single, unskilled, haphazard opponent who may not even have a tool that’s capable of applying deadly force (an unloaded or facsimile weapon, for example).  Others may encounter highly-skilled, experienced killers that truly make the event a “survival of the fittest” moment. It varies. And it’s not fair—because it’s real life and real life is not fair.

What doesn’t vary all that much is the emotional connection that individuals involved in these events tend to have with what happened during the event, to include the tactics and techniques applied. 

Envision talking with someone who just finished a deadly force encounter with the first attacker described above, wounding but not killing the attacker. “Then I pulled my little .25ACP.  It was just stuffed down in my sock, so I went down on one knee, yanked that thing out, and was able to get my rounds off before he got me. You can’t tell me that caliber or carry technique doesn’t work or it’s the wrong way to carry.  I KNOW it works. I’ve been there!”

And this isn’t just for stuff that’s happened for real either. This emotional connection to techniques and tactics extends past operational experiences, and into the experiences that people have when engaging in training and preparation for those types of environments.  This is true of both armed professionals and civilians.

Ever hear anybody say, “Well, what we used to do is…,” or, “We were taught…,” as a preface for giving their opinion on a “tactical” issue? Actually, did you ever hear anybody NOT say that at the outset when discussing tactics and techniques? Maybe that’s the better question.

And, of course, this only makes sense.

People typically stick with what they know in general. And, any halfway decent instructor in the combative side will do his or her best to impress on the students that what they are doing is deadly serious business. 

Some cursory psychology research will tell you that this tends to create an emotional connection to the subject matter. In turn, the chemicals in the brain tissue that equate to “emotion” contribute to improved retention of memories. These chemical mixtures also create stronger than normal attachments to specific items, techniques, experiences etc. that may have been involved in stimulating the emotional response.

Saying the same thing in a simpler, less “sciencey” way, people don’t like change, they like to stay in their comfort zone with what they know, and they tend to be heavily emotionally invested in what they have learned or done with respect to “combative” skills and tactics—even when they haven’t done them for real.

Here’s the problem—unfortunately, everything can’t work well.  Even if it did work once, that doesn’t mean it works well.  And just because it works well in one environment doesn’t mean it will work well in another. That’s one of the core differences between techniques/procedures and tactics—though this doesn’t seem to be as well understood as it could be in the industry.

In an age where many people try really, really hard at a systems level to assume standards of both moral and technical relativism, eventually the rubber still meets the road and there are results for all to see.  The problem within our industry is that this “rubber/road interface” is really inconsistent and we, as people, are not very good at looking outside the “window” of our own personal experiences.

**Note—We are not advocating for a “one size fits all” approach or method for anything. We consistently state (and believe) that there is virtually always more than one way to skin the cat. However, it is also a statement of fact that there are techniques and methods that are inefficient, ineffective, unsafe, or just flat-out don’t work at all.**

Let’s look at a simple example, unfortunately one that’s all too real.  One of the “standards” in our industry, as ridiculous as it is, is the State level concealed carry program—with its “qualification” shoot. Everybody who is worth listening to agrees that these training/certification programs are worthless in terms of developing or evaluating a person’s readiness for armed self-defense.

Nonetheless, most people who take the class (and, unfortunately also many who teach it) discuss performance on the “qualification” as if it means something.  For those individuals who engage in those discussions, that’s the “rubber/road interface.” That’s their window and they can’t see anything else. It’s all they know.

What a shame.  Going into the year 2019, what a tragic, tragic shame.  But I digress…

What’s important to recognize is that we are ALL in this same boat. We can only see what’s visible through our own windows.

We have a friend who is a law enforcement officer, a dedicated and highly-skilled shooter, and firearms instructor who has been personally involved in a shooting incident that he shares with his students for educational purposes. He shared a story with us about a civilian student in one of his classes who immediately became highly critical of our friend’s real-world marksmanship performance.

Personality issues aside…this student had a singular window through which to view firearms skill—the window of hitting a single, static target on an indoor lane range with no time limit and no stressors.  And, looking through that window, not hitting a human-sized target 100% of the time at less than seven yards is absurd and worthy of public ridicule.

Our friend didn’t get mad. Instead, he opened another window for his student to look through.

He set up a Simunition scenario where he put a static, man-sized paper target up at 7 yards.  He stood next to the target with a sim gun, gave the student a sim gun, and told the student he would NOT shoot him with the sim gun, but would shoot past him with it.  When he raised the gun and started firing in the student’s direction, the student was to shoot the target. 

What happened when they did this? The student missed the target completely and left the class with not just a new attitude, he also had a new window.

What’s the famous Rex Applegate quote? Something like, “There is a tremendous difference between shooting methods that work well when you are trying to put holes in the target and those that work well when the target is trying to put holes in you.”

Our point is this, every one of us faces this same limitation. (This includes, very specifically, us at Building Shooters by the way.) We (people) are all limited by our own “windows,” have real trouble seeing past them, and are heavily biased to things we are comfortable with.

This is true even if what we are comfortable with doesn’t actually work very well (or at all). 

Here’s the thing, everything actually works pretty well—right up until it doesn’t.  Carrying the smallest and lightest gun you can find in the deepest possible cover without a round in the chamber works wonderfully, when a person’s entire “window” of performance is, “I wore it on my body all day today and didn’t shoot myself.”

A single-pane, red-dot optic is awesome and works very well—if you’re always shooting in a benign environment with the optic starting at ambient temperature. Bail out of an air-conditioned vehicle into a hot, humid environment, or stack up in cold ambient temperatures and make entry into a heated structure though?  Best hope you’re either really good with your secondary or don’t need to hit anything with your primary for 10-15 minutes.

We could go on, but probably so could you…so hopefully we have made the point.

As instructors in this industry, we all generally acknowledge that we deal in life and death subject matter where what we teach and what the students learn based on what we teach (these can often be two different things) can directly impact whether the students (and others) live or die. 

It’s not small potatoes and we all know it so most folks (even when they happen to be wrong) truly do strive to provide the best product they can for the people they train. If you’ve read to this point of the article, you’re almost certainly in this group. You really give a crap.

So, ask yourself, what can’t you see and how can these unknowns impact your students’ performance?

What’s outside your window?

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"The clearest, simplest, most well-founded psychomotor training program I have seen for developing shooting skills."
-Dr. Bill Lewinski
Executive Director, Force Science Institute
"Easily one of the more important books of our time when it comes to preparing police, military and armed civilians for armed lethal combat."
-Kenneth Murray
Author, Training at the Speed of Life
Co-Founder of Simunition