I’ve been thinking lately about the way some of us practice our defensive skills: We draw from our holster (which rides exactly at our preferred spot) with our strong hand. We aim at a target placed chest-high at a range of 7 yards or so and put our shots downrange. We re-holster carefully. Then we do it again. When we dry practice, we exercise the same skills – some of us do it until we can get a blazing fast draw, because that helps us in IDPA.
And, as far as it goes, this kind of repetition is hugely important. There’s no question that these fundamental skills do need to become automatic, actions we can perform without having to consciously think about them, because seconds count in a lethal force encounter. Sometimes tenths of a second count. And it takes hundreds or thousands of repetitions to ingrain those automatic movements.
But there’s something else I think we ought to be practicing, and I’m labeling it with an aviation term I learned recently: We need to drill our responses to “unusual attitudes” too.
In flying, an “unusual attitude” is any time the plane unexpectedly deviates from straight and level flight. Some unusual attitudes, like an unexpected climb or descent, are fairly benign if caught I time. Others, stalls and spins, can be deadly – and getting through the OODA loop quickly can be critical to survival. That’s why flight instructors drill student pilots on recovering from these unusual attitudes, so that the automatic, ingrained responses the pilot can draw on cover them as well as the routine stuff.
Consider some “unusual attitudes” we might encounter in a defensive encounter.
What if our strong side arm is disabled, or carrying our child? Have you practiced drawing from your usual concealed carry gear and position without using your strong-side arm? I did a test just now with a stopwatch, and reaching my left arm across my body to draw from a two o’clock appendix carry position takes about three times longer than my usual, well-practiced, strong-side draw. Those seconds could be the difference between survival and serious injury – or worse – in a real defensive encounter. Clearly, this is something I need to practice.
What about situations where we’re carrying our firearm in a non-usual location? If I usually carry on my body, but wardrobe or other considerations mandate purse carry in a particular situation, the odds are high that I’m going to instinctively reach for my belt if I need my gun. Kathy Jackson of Cornered Cat told me recently about a similar hesitation she noticed when she was teaching and carrying both a blue gun and a real weapon on opposite hips at the same time. She said she’d noticed herself looking down as she drew to make sure of which gun she was drawing, and this slowed her down. If you vary your carry method at all, you need to practice with each carry method you use and you need to drill yourself to orienting quickly to where your gun is.
Suppose the bad guy rushes you and, in the fight, you drop your gun on the ground. Have you practiced picking it up quickly and smoothly? Do you think that’s a situation where seconds might count? What about drawing from a holster while sitting in your car with a seatbelt around you? Drawing from inside your nightstand drawer in the dark, if that’s where you keep your gun? How about drawing while you’re lying down? Have you ever run an IDPA stage in the clothes and shoes you normally wear to work? (If your day-to-day carry gear isn’t IDPA legal, ask the folks that run your local matches if you can run the stages in that gear after a match sometime.)
It’s easy to overlook these unusual situations, but the odds are high that, if you ever have to draw your firearm in self-defense, it won’t be in an ideal situation of perfect lighting, perfect clothes, and a bad guy 20 yards away who gives you lots of time to orient yourself to what’s happening. Odds are, it’ll be in the middle of a desperate – and quick – struggle for your life, at a time and place you don’t expect. If the bad guy can catch you lying down, or wrapped in a seatbelt, or tottering in four inch heels and a tight evening dress, so much the better for him.
Practice and repetition build the kind of kinesthetic memory needed to move, quickly, when everything’s on the line and seconds count. Just make sure you’re practicing and repeating responses to these kinds of non-ideal situations too. The bad guys want to strike when you’re least ready for them, so practicing those “unusual attitude” maneuvers may well save your life.