Don’t Drag Your Dry Cleaning

By: Scott Gatlin

After a couple of years of picking up my own dry cleaning (shirts and pants), I recently picked up a dress for my wife. As I was walking to my truck in the parking lot, an elderly lady in a passing car rolled down her window and said, “Honey, you are dragging that dress through the puddles.” She was right, and the dress went back to the dry cleaners.

As I drove home, I realized why I had dragged the dress. I had become accustomed to carrying my dry cleaning to the truck at a certain height, and the dress was much longer than that height. Without knowing it, I had formed a habit that did not serve me well in all situations.

Almost immediately, the question came to my mind, "Am I doing the same thing with my practice and training with firearms?" Do we, with all good intentions, create habits on the practice range that are tactically unsound or even dangerous in a defensive scenario?

As warriors and responsible CCW-ers, we must constantly evaluate what we do during our practice and our training. If we allow ourselves to fall into “harmless” habits on the range, that is exactly how we will perform in a fight. Those habits could be the difference in winning and losing the fight when it matters.

There are at least three steps we can take on a continuing basis to get rid of our bad habits and replace them with sound techniques. The first thing we must do is to learn to do things the right way. Perhaps "the" right way should be "a" right way, but we must learn sound techniques and skills that will hold up under stress and that will work in the widest variety of circumstances possible. The best way to do this is to train under professional instructors. Take a class or two each year from competent teachers to continue to add quality tools to your toolbox.

The next step is to practice the skills we learn until they are programmed responses that we can do every time under the worst of conditions. The techniques learned in classes do not belong to you until you have practiced them over and over, and done so over a period of several weeks or months. Once mastered, practice must continue to keep those skills sharp and at hand. "Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong."

Finally, we must constantly and honestly critique ourselves and have our training partners and/or instructors evaluate all aspects of our gun handling and self defense skills. It is after we think that we are well trained and ready to go that bad habits may surface. These will be difficult to self-diagnose, so rely on a training partner or instructor to watch you shoot, and make every repetition count. Practice does NOT make perfect – PERFECT practice makes perfect. When we allow ourselves to cut corners on the practice range, we are planting seeds for habits that we will carry into a fight, habits that may make the difference in success or failure.

The list of bad habits to avoid is endless, and that’s the wrong approach, anyway. The key is to consciously ingrain sound techniques that work under all conditions, and use them every time we shoot. That includes practice at the range, IDPA or other competitions, formal classes, and even dryfire practice at home.

By following the basic gun safety rules every time, we’ll never form the habit of sweeping people with the muzzle or having our finger on the trigger at the wrong time. By using proper follow through every time, we’ll cure the problem of looking over the gun at the target for our bullet holes. By doing a chamber check every time we put on a gun, we’ll never show up at a fight with a partial or empty magazine in the gun. Establish the habit of going armed every day, and you’ll never be caught in a lethal force confrontation without a gun. The point should be obvious – fill your arsenal with sound practices and the bad habits are much less likely to surface.

It boils down to our commitment to be the best we can be. If we allow ourselves to be lazy and less than perfect in practice, it will show. We’ll fight like we train. Do it right every time, every repetition must be perfect. One well-known instructor, Jeff Gonzales, says "Train With Integrity." I say the same thing, but a little differently – don’t drag your dry cleaning.

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