Outside of practical competition and top notch shooting schools, skillful gun handling is rare. Learning to present from a holster at speed is fun, useful and within the capability of anyone willing to put in a little work. However, a scourge common among gun owners, private and public, is attempting to shoot faster than skills allow.
Most POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) shooting courses are established for non-firearm users required to qualify annually, thus any enforced time limits are generous. Military handgun training, when conducted at all, is even worse. Shooting from the holster is nearly unheard of there. Many public ranges simply forbid the practice. By the NRA’s own statistics, only one out of every 100 card-carrying members have bothered to earn a shooting skill classification of any level at a class or event. The general gun owning population is lower still, so there is an obvious need to educate. Fast gun handling is only potentially dangerous among the under trained.
Smooth Is Fast
The “smooth is fast” mantra is routinely regurgitated, often by those who don’t understand it, or at least can’t apply it. Rather than rely on catch phrases, lets analyze the process of good gun handling.
Typical human adults have 206 bones controlled by approximately 639 skeletal muscles. Movement happens through repeated contractions of many muscles at correct times, controlled by the central nervous system. Concentric contractions cause the muscle to shorten, changing the joint angle. Eccentric contractions elongate the muscle decelerating the joint at the movement’s end. Done with precision, this “smooths out” a movement. Skillful, consistent motion can be defined as the correct muscles tensing at the right time. This also means that any muscle not involved in the movement must relax at the appropriate time.
Any act of coordination requires both consistent movement and relaxation of those muscles not essential to the movement. If these non-essential muscles aren’t relaxed, extraneous movement or tension is caused and the result is both imprecise and slow. Watch a novice shooter—the grip and position is inconsistent, even in slow fire. When asked to shoot at speed on the clock, the movement is an odd mix of spastic motions. It probably feels fast to the duffer and all that motion gives the illusion of speed to the untrained eye, but the timer tells a different tale—assuming there are any hits on target to begin with.
Every attempt looks different because the novice isn’t yet coordinated enough to repeat the same motion twice. The wrong muscles are pulling at wrong times because the central nervous system has not yet programmed what “correct” is. It would be impossible to consciously control each of 600-plus muscles, so we have to repeat the same motion many times to embed it. A musician will first learn a scale or piece beginning at a pace so slow that it can’t be screwed up. This allows conscious control and begins the embedding process. The pace is quickened in even, gradual increments, as gauged by a metronome, reinforcing the movements by forcing the subconscious to take over until the tempo is beyond current skill level. Then the pace is dropped down and the process is repeated.
This takes many sessions. It can be dull and sometimes frustrating, and estimates of a 3,000-repetition minimum are common—that’s correct repetitions. Contrary to another popular catch phrase, practice does not make perfect. Repeating an inefficient movement, or a series of varied ones, will never yield the desired result. Sticking with a daily training schedule and the discipline to admit flaws and break things down at a slow pace are the real secrets of good shooting.