Thursday, June 7, 2012

Training – Training to the point of failure . . . . .


System failure is a bitch . . . .

July, 1969 and I’m sitting on a runway at the US airbase at Tainan, Taiwan. I’m being deployed to an island about 70 miles away off the western coast called Ma-Gung (seems the world now calls it whatever the Red Chinese wants to call it). My mode of transportation?? A Taiwanese Air Force C-119. Yep, a no shit “Flying Boxcar” first made famous by the Berlin Air Lift. It’s an odd mix of military protocol and civilian passengers. The pilots give a nice little pre-flight brief (in Mandarin, of course), the civilians applaud. Then they return forward to the cockpit and we settle into the web seats – military, civilian, commercial air freight, military equipment – all crammed into a nice, tight little hold. It was all very Kurt Vonnegut – “Catch 22”ish.

The nick name for a C-119 . . . . . “Flying Brick”

Lead sentence of this post . . . “System failure is a bitch . . . “

About half way through the flight – 15 minutes or so – you hear the kind of “bang” that takes you to the “oh shit!!!”, “think I’m gonna fill my pants”, “hope I don’t scream like a baby” place as the aircraft lurches to the right and feels  like the high-speed down elevator in Sears Tower.

We have experienced the catastrophic failure of the starboard engine and we ARE going down – “Flying Brick”, remember. I’d been in the Air Force for right at one year, was going to my first TDY duty assignment, had never experienced the joys of FUBAR common in all military environments . . . . and now I was going to die. Well shit!!!

Obviously, it was not my day. The pilot did what ever magic he needed to do and though our decent was constant and steady after the engine failure, we touched down at the very, very, very, very end of the runway and rolled up to a holding point as fire trucks surrounded us and got ready to extinguish a – thankfully – non-existent fire.

The ramp dropped, the pilots emerged to the applause of the passengers and I was off to my new duty assignment – none the worse for wear.

This was my introduction to the dangers of complete and unexpected system failure. I’d love to say it was my last – but 21 years in the military assured me that FUBAR was real, prevalent and could make your day a very bad day indeed.

So what the heck does this have to do with personal defense?? (other than the fact that I enjoy telling tales) What systems do you, as a shooter and as an individual committed to the defense of yourself, you family and those around you use in a day that could fail and put you in a world of hurt?

Many more than you think. Run your day through in your mind from the time you plant your feet on the floor until you roll back into the sack.

  • Electrical grid
  • Alarm clock
  • Water and Sewer systems
  • Your vehicle
  • Virtually all municipal systems
  • Communication systems – cell, radio, tv, cable
  • Public alarm systems – fire, nuclear power plant, intrusion
  • Your personal weapons system that you carry in your EDC system
  • Your home defense weapons

There are more, but the idea is that in today’s world we are, in many ways, dependent of multiple systems that are complex beyond words. They are all subject to failure of one type or another – and each failure, should it happen at a critical moment for you – can make you have a very bad day.

However, behind all of these systems is  the most critical system of all – you. Your body is the single most important system that determines your experience of life.

AGirl seems destined to present post ideas lately. A while back she discussed her martial arts training and things that were holding her back – which led to my recent post on Violence. Well, she obviously hopped right over whatever speed-bump was in her way about fighting and seems to have had her ass handed to her.   Honestly, a big step for her but not without some unintended consequences.  Which lead to my post on her thread about training limits and techniques and more than a few days of pondering about “Training to Failure” . . . . hence, this post.

I’m chewing on some systems failure posts – options, reactions, clearing procedures – but still just chewing. What I want to focus on here are the physical failures each shooter experiences as they train for personal defense, some cautions and some suggestions on how to continue to expand your defensive envelope to make you quicker and more lethal.

So, lets chat about . . . . You.

Physical Structure

You are what you are. And with that come the characteristics of the basic machine, whether male or female. Skeletally, you are either short or tall or somewhere in between. You may have physical limitations in your foundation – an imperfect structure, a structure missing components, a damaged structure due to accident or health issues. Yet, this is what you have, this is what you start working with. There is little you can do at this foundational level.

Internal Systems

A quick walk through your “innards” reveals an amazingly complicated system, well integrated and seriously interdependent. Brain to nerves, nerves to organs, organs providing the nutrients to serve the brain and nerves, muscle, tendon to provide mobility – all controlled by the brain and nerves. Heart and lung to provide nutrients and oxygen to the brain, nerves and muscles. Damage any system in any significant way – your life will be significantly changed or will end.


What an interesting system. The easy comparison is to a computer – hardly accurate, at any level. Your brain does manage your major system groups, but it is also home to your personality, your dreams, your desires, your hopes, your fears. It IS you. Damage this system in a significant way – again the outcome will go badly.

You have some control

You have control over various parts of these primary systems. For you entering defensive training, the physical capabilities and the mental conditioning are critical. If you choose to be fat, out of shape, unwilling to eat right, exercise your body, train your muscles – you limit your ability to respond to threats, you limit your ability to be lethal. Your choice. If it’s not what you want, choose differently.

If you don’t push your mental limits – place yourself in fearful situations, expand your boundaries of risk taking – you also limit your ability to respond to threats and your ability to be lethal. You can use training to first find your limits – then to expand them.

Physically, start with a walk/run and find your limits. Begin training times at 15 minutes (if you’re out of shape), 30 minutes if feel like you’re “in shape.

Pay attention to your heart rate. There are any number of web sites dedicated to helping you find good “training zones” given your age, weight and general condition. Use them. Then – after a couple of weeks of effort and conditioning – “train to failure”. Push yourself at the walk or run until you’ve simply had it. Back off, use the tools, do the work – then a couple of weeks later “train to failure”. If you are not pushing to failure periodically, you are not growing, not becoming as strong as you could, not expanding your limits, not becoming more lethal to those who would wish to do you harm. This should be a life long process. While your physical ability can change throughout your life due to illness, accident or simply the characteristics of age – it remains import to “train to failure” so you know what your failure points are. Once you know them, you can adjust your training and equipment to adjust for them. Where do you carry, what do you carry, how wide is your “yellow zone”, your “red zone” – if you know your limits, you can adjust to them.

You are an “individual system”.  In order to defend yourself, YOUR system must be battle-ready 24/7. Is this always possible? – Nope. I find my body needs to curl up and heal once in awhile – as everyone’s does. However, when you physically train – especially hand-to-hand, I see little value in training in a way that physically damages you and takes you out of the fight. While that is done and expected in full-on military training, their resources are deep and an injured soldier can be removed from a mission and replaced with a healthy soul. You however ARE the army. When YOU are down, your ARMY is down and your DEFENSES are down. Broken arms, legs, fingers, ribs do little to allow you to respond to an intruder or a gunman in the same 7-11 you just walked into. I see little value in this. So, trainer lighter??? No, of course not. However, I do would recommend using enough protective equipment to dampen the injuries while still allowing full strength training. Use pads, use head protection. Less macho?? Sure, I guess – however, when a “goober” seeks to do you harm on the way home from the gym or as you are settling in for an evening with the family, you’ll be able to respond quicker.

Range Training

“Training to failure” is difficult on many ranges. In our area most ranges do not even allow holster draws let alone shooting while moving, multiple target engagement or switching between multiple weapons systems. Yet, this is what you need to train for. Let’s look at the individual components.

Holster Draw

How fast can you get your weapon into the fight from your normal carry position. I DO NOT mean from your favorite holster that you like to train with on the range or in the shooting classes you take. (for me personally, this would be a Glock 17 in a Serpa Holster). What I mean is drawing from concealment. 90% of your draw stroke is muscle memory. You brain thinks “draw” and your weapon appears in front of you ready to put the threat down. You DO NOT need range time to train your muscles – you need lots of draws, thousands of draws – perfect draws. I would encourage you to set aside 15 minutes a day to do as many PERFECT draws as you can – each and every day. “Train to Failure” – if your draw “fails” fight through it, get on the threat and press the trigger. (I would recommend a “LaserLyte” round for this dry fire exercise – review is in the works). Once you can do 15 minutes worth of draws perfectly – accelerate the draw until you fail – and repeat, EVERY DAY until you get 25 perfect draws – then accelerate . . . . . . .

Live Fire

Training involves risk. Weapons training involves risk of death – period. Yet, If you never “train to failure” during live fire – you do not condition your self for a full engagement . For this – 25 perfect draws per week at the range. I would suggest you back off just a tad from your max dry-fire speed – yet ride that limit as closely as you can.

You are most at risk during the draw and re-holster. PAY FRICKING ATTENTION!!!!!!! Muzzle discipline, finger discipline, work the safety, use the safety. There are innumerable Youtube videos of “experts” that shoot themselves during “quick draw” training. You too have the opportunity to appear on international Youtube! You too have the opportunity to screw up and put a hole through your leg, foot, arm or other body part. There is risk in everything – that’s why you train – to REDUCE your risk – NOT to eliminate it.

Once you are happy with this, add movement. AS you draw – MOVE!! The five most common directions are: straight at the threat, 2 o’clock, 5 o’clock, 7 o’clock and 10 o’clock. Add this component to your dry-fire exercise first. Once you are confident, add it to your live fire training. Next to actually carrying a weapon each and every hour of each and every day you are awake – learning to move and shoot will do the most to save your life in an actual encounter.

The process is the same – find your limits. Work on a different direction each day during your 15 minutes of dry fire practice. Once you have as many perfect “move and draw” rounds under your belt as you can get, go faster . . . . repeat . . .

And, again, once this process is fully learned in a dry-fire mode – move it to the range and live fire. (note – please, work with your RSO and your range before you do this or you will quickly find yourself out on your ear with a note to never return). Movement, rapid draw stroke and combat effective hits are your goal and while will keep you in your family’s life rather than in the family plot.

Training, in all things, is the path to learning that skill set. “Training to failure” allows you to monitor your growth, to see the progress you are making, to refine your technique, to grow. Unless you are pushing your limits – you are stagnant. And, as they say “you don’t want to be that guy” . . . .

“Train to failure” . . . . . the secret to success.


  1. Great post, much info to digest now. No CHL yet, but the Mrs and I should probably find a holster and start practicing at home.

  2. Excellent post, and it IS something we need to practice! It is the 'little' things that will kill us...

  3. Rabid - yep, I know it got a bit wordy but, as you said, there was alot of info to touch on. Thanks for slugging through it.

    NFO - it always seems to be the little things that get ya. Detail, detail, detail. BTW, interesting to read about your trip. We need to have a beer sometime down the road.

    1. Heh. What else was I supposed to do at work? LOL

  4. Great post and lots of wonderful points and things to ponder. I don't agree with everything, but I absolutely respect your point of view.

    While I agree that if one gets hurt and is down that can be a temporary problem and I most certaintly do not go out and recklessly get hurt, but I DO think there is great value in feeling pain and hardening your body against it. I have lived my entire life in fear and in a very protective bubble...the mental mindset of breaking that ingrained way of thinking was vital and while it the injury was an accident it was well worth what I gained.

    1. Yeah, this thing did get a bit out of hand size-wise. Like I said, pretty easy for me to get preachie - heavy sigh. Yet, it is where my head went so there-ya-go.

      Don't take me wrong - I have no complaint on how you choose to do your training. You have a far better understanding to the things you personally need to work on than I do. While you promped the general direction of the post, please, it wasn't meant to "pick" on you in any way.

      My main push is that most folks I know go to the range to "get better" at shooting. Meaning, their focus is on making the tightest group of holes possible. And, for many of the shooting sports - that's great. However, for personal defense a shooter needs to push the limits, find the areas where their skill set breaks down and refine and push those specific issues.

      Anyway, I'm proud of you that you jumped over this little bump of resisting hitting someone - good job. As for pads, etc - all personal choice kiddo, no big deal to me. Enjoy, have fun, work hard, learn - just look how far you've come in the past year. You're doin' great!!

    2. Wasn't offended in the least and I didn't feel picked on. I learn so much for you and have always felt supported by your encouragement. I think these kinds of discussions are so valuable. They push us to really think about what we believe and also offers others the chance to learn and evaluate their own thinking.

      Intelligent, thoughtful, respectful dialog is most stimulating.

      I really do think this post is full of great information. I know that I have a high number of brand new shooters and former victims of violent crime and the info here is valuable to them I's why I link to you so often:). Plus I am hoping if I ever get back to Iowa you will join me for Casey's pizza and an old fashion pork tenderloin sandwich:)

  5. That was outstanding information. I've sent this to my daughter. She's six foot one and a shooter but having the metablism I did until 40 (just you wait hon) she weighs about as much as lint and doesn't have any martial arts training. I think it's time.

    I got my butt handed to me on a paper plate doing combat karate with some special forces folks I work with. It was just for "fun" but well . damn. . showed me just how weak and vulnerable I was.

    thanks for giving us such well written information and wisdom.

  6. Ms. B - Thank you for the kind words. Yep, I suspect one of these days your daughter will begin to notice a bit of "tightening" here and there - seems a fairly typical pattern. :)

    For me, the days of hand-to-hand training are beginning to fade quickly. Knees, feet, back - heavy sigh. Honestly, after a full day on the range with students I'm begging for vitamin "I" in a really big way!! :) Yet, that is the way of things, isn't it? Had I put out less than a full measure during "my day", saved parts of myself for - what - the future?? Not sure I could fully look myself in the mirror. As they say "ya play the game, ya pay the price" - with absolutly no regrets other than when I speak to some of my eagle scouts in remote parts of the world (I have 4 of them in combat as I type this), I realize I can no longer tack up, climb into some kind of bird filled with all those smells of sweat, oil, JP4 and join them. As odd as it sounds, I miss it.

    So, I've changed focus to work with folks who, for the first time in their life, feel uneasy - frightened - concerned. It's certainly rewarding, it's fun and it's something I CAN do.

    And, I can tell stories here - I obviously enjoy that. Hopefully there is a lesson or two to be found in them for other folks as well.

    Again, have a great weekend!