“Metrics Vs. Mediocrity” by Tom Givens

Excellent commentary from Tom Givens. Well worth your time to read, if you carry a gun for self-defense.

Metrics vs Mediocrity

by Tom Givens

There is a small, but vocal, segment in the defensive training community that discourages the use of stopwatches or electronic timers, and belittles attempts to quantify skill at arms with scored courses and drills. I read some drivel from a couple of these guys on Facebook recently, and was really disturbed by the level of antagonism they showed toward striving for competency with a deadly weapon. They actually used terms like “good enough”, and advised to take one firearms class and move on to other things. In fact, they described anyone who actually bothered to measure performance as a “hobbyist”, and from their tone it was obvious they use that term derisively. Let’s see, someone is trying to kill me, and I’m legally accountable for every bullet I launch, so bare minimum training is “good enough”? WTF?

Shooting skill, particularly with a handgun, is perishable. Competent initial training has to be followed by regular sustainment training to have any hope of solid performance under high stress. Let’s look at a couple of examples from the police training world. Yes, I understand not everyone is a cop, but police agencies track these things and the information is available to us.

The New York City Police Department has their officers fire 50 rounds of ammunition, twice a year. Part of their qualification course is not even timed. Every year, their hit ratio runs about 10%-20% in the field. In one year, they fired 1,293 shots on the streets of New York to hit 64 suspects and 11 innocent bystanders. That’s “good enough” for some, but I’d like to see them do better.

The Los Angeles Police Department, on the other hand, requires officers to shoot every 30 days. Their qualification course uses a smaller target and has reasonable time limits, which are strictly enforced by turning targets, which disappear when the time limit expires. The department as a whole has about a 55% hit ratio. The Metro Division, which gets even more focus on firearms training, has an 85% hit ratio. Coincidence?

Let’s say, just for the sake of discussion, we have a silhouette target that has an 8 inch circle in the upper chest to simulate the vital zone of an attacker, and this target is at 5 yards, a typical civilian engagement distance. The task at hand is to draw from concealment and hit this circle with three rounds. We have two shooters complete this task. Both shooters place all three hits inside the “vital zone”, so they are equal, right? Good enough?

The difference is, Shooter A got his hits in 1.8 seconds, while Shooter B took 3.5 seconds to get his hits. Shooter A is clearly a better shooter. If Shooter B is serious about self defense, he will strive to become better, which in this case, means faster, so that he has a realistic chance of getting his hits in a defensive shooting incident before he is hit, himself.

Without a reasonable target (in this case the 8 inch circle) and without a time measurement (stopwatch/timer), there is no way to asses skill, measure progress, or diagnose and address deficiencies. The adult teaching model is Explain, Demonstrate, Practice and Test. Without Testing, there is no measure of learning, and you are only engaging in ballistic masturbation. It may make you feel better in the short term, but you aren’t accomplishing anything.

These same pundits rail against scored drills, calling them meaningless measures of precision. Actually, scored courses or drills serve many important functions and are critical to development as a defensive shooter. Here are some of the reasons they are important.

1. We need an objective view of the student’s skill, not a subjective view. The target and timer don’t lie.

2. We can compare the student’s performance to a historical standard, set by measuring the performance of a number of students before him. Thus, we know if we need to remediate or move forward.

3. We can precisely quantify and track progress, essential to skill building.

4. We can instill the timing issues necessary for shooting at the right cadence as target size/distance varies.

5. We can get the student accustomed to working under stress.

6. We can help the student build confidence. Not measuring skill leads to false confidence. Students always think they are doing better than they are. Actually scoring, and incorporating both accuracy and speed in the scoring, shows true skill level, and allows real confidence.

7. Training and practice build skill. Skill builds confidence. Confidence leads to coolness. Coolness prevents panic. This is what wins fights.

In the extreme stress of a real life shooting incident, skill degrades. However, the more skill one has, the less skill one tends to lose (see #7 above). The less skill one has, the more skill one tends to lose under duress. This is why “good enough” is not good enough. Also, the Mother of retention of any physical skill under duress is structured repetition. To have a higher skill level, one had to practice more (structured repetition). I have debriefed a number of people after shootings, and not one of them has ever said to me, “When the bullets starting coming my way, I wished I hadn’t trained as hard.”

As an example, one of our students, who we will call John, has taken several classes with us, including our Instructor Development Course. In that course, students are held to high accuracy and speed standards, and those who do not make the required scores do not get certificates. This January, John was forced to shoot a man under highly stressful circumstances, including total surprise. John fired four rounds and got four upper torso hits, ending the threat to him and his family. That’s the goal, not just to be “good enough”.

2 thoughts on ““Metrics Vs. Mediocrity” by Tom Givens

  1. gregraven

    Number 5 is a biggie. Even at events where I have no reasonable expectation of winning, as soon as that timer sounds, the adrenaline kicks in, despite my having told myself ahead of time to go slow and focus on hits first. I imagine it’s even worse during a confrontation.

    1. Duane Post author

      Ken Hackathorn has commented that, under life threatening stress, i.e. someone is trying to kill you, people will almost never attempt to do anything in response they don’t already know they can do WELL.

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