Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why Read Words

I'll share a little secret with you: I don't particularly love to read. But I love to learn. Amazingly enough, the two often coincide. Therefore, I love to read. I am a very slow reader so sometimes it takes me a while to catch up but I keep plugging away at it and I'm better off for it because I do learn a lot.

That being said, I'm always astonished how few people are interested in reading about the topics of self defense. Some may follow the occasional blog or visit forums wherein reading is presumably necessary but from time to time it's made very clear that even those are not actually read to be digested before they are commented on.

Worse still is the idea that reading is unnecessary to the understanding of the principles of self defense.

I've seen many a comment to self defense book recommendations that go a lot like the Snotlout quote from How To Train Your Dragon:

"Why read words when you can just kill the stuff the words tell you stuff about?"

Or, as one person commented to a Rory Miller book recommendation, "I don't need to know what makes a criminal a criminal or how he thinks, I just need to know if he's a threat."

There is a certain sort of logic to that but it's also pretty naive. I may set people up for assuming too much or too little in any given encounter and in every aspect no less.

A Mindset Aspect:
Mindset is pretty driven into people who carry guns these days. But there are still a lot of people out there who carry guns who ".. don't want to hurt anyone." They will just, "shoot someone in the leg." They have no concept of awareness, avoidance and they can't recognize a dangerous situation unfolding until it's already gone past the point of no return. Yes, you can get this information from classes but a lot of it comes from sitting down and digesting the written material of those who've already been there.

An Equipment Aspect:
Many people base their carry setup choices based upon the recommendations of those they know ("My friend, who is a cop, told me I should get..."), feelings ("I got this one because it has pink handles"), cost ("It was between this one and that one but this was cheaper") and assumed reputation ("The military carried the 1911 for 70 years (with an empty chamber, no less). If it was good enough for them, it's good enough for me.")

So much has been written about what makes a good, civilian fighting/carry setup it's impossible to list all of the resources. Despite that fact, many people still skip absorbing the seasoned advice of people who've been there and done it in favor of pink handles and cheap accessories.

Why read? So you don't end up with crap.

A Tactical Aspect:
You may not have $500 to go to the class you want, but you can afford a $15 book on the principles of carry or gunfighting. You may not be able to sit under an instructor who will demo for you the ways to utilize cover, set up your equipment, think about how you walk down the street, clear a room, etc. But you can get the basic gist from a good book or two on the subject.

One of the best students I've ever had came directly to our intermediate class and had never taken a firearms class in his life. All he'd ever done was read, test what he read at the range, watch a few videos online and take what he learned to heart. He was a FINE shooter and had a great rudimentary grasp of everything we were trying to teach. With a few tweaks he was flying and started competing in IDPA the next day.

A Performance Aspect:
What will your bullets do? What won't they do? How far will it travel if you miss? What is cover? What is concealment? What is the penetration of your particular caliber choice in your particular gun? What about your target? What are the best areas to target?

What about your body? How does it work with things like adrenaline? How can you expect to reasonably perform under that kind of stress?

Guess what... There are books about that.

A Potential Threat Assessment Aspect:
So, you don't think you need to know how a criminal thinks or works but when some guy comes up to you and compliments your shoes you have absolutely no concept as to whether or not this is just a nice guy paying you a compliment or a predator using charm as a way to get close enough to victimize you. You have nothing to do but wait until the situation escalates or attempt some sort of immediate shut down.

Why read? Because being able to distinguish between the types of criminals and how they operate can tell you how you might be able to assess them and even be deselected or deescalate the situation.

Why is that important? Because it's always better to deescalate than let it progress to a fight and how you deescalate a situation with one type of criminal is different from how you may deescalate from another.

An Emotional/Psychological Aspect:
So you had your day. You shot someone. There are people out there who are unaffected by this. But a lot of people go through a whole gambit of emotional and psychological stages. Knowing about and/or being prepared for them can help one process and heal. And there are lots of good books on the subject.

A Legal Aspect:
It still astounds me how many people don't care to read about self defense law in general or in their own state.

"I was in fear for my life," is not the begin-all and end-all of your defense.

You do need to know when it's legal to engage and (sometimes more importantly) when it's necessary to disengage. You do need to have a sense of the law so that you can articulate why you were justified in doing what you did.

You do that by reading. If you don't have your state statutes bookmarked on your internet browser yet, what are you waiting for? Get reading!

And I'm just scratching the surface. There are so many more subtopics and theories and principles laid out by great minds worth exploring.

If you're serious about it, you should be reading about it.

Want a good place to start? Greg Ellifritz's "Recommended Reading" link on his website and all of his "free book" links.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Are Your Beliefs/Training Valid?

--> When I was twenty I got myself in an online debate about "knockdown power." Of course I didn't know what the hell knockdown power was. But I truly and genuinely believed that if you shot someone with a handgun bullet they would instantly fall down.

No, I didn't believe they flew across rooms or anything but I remember watching a movie where a man got shot in the shoulder with a handgun, doesn't even twitch, looks down at his wound and then charges the shooter in rage and all I could think was how unrealistic that was.

I was that naive.

So when I entered this debate, I did so under the premise that knockdown power was not only real but something to be relied upon in armed confrontation.

When my opinion was not sufficient to persuade I figured I would overload my nay-sayers with data.

So, the search began. I went to the interwebz and spent non-stop hours searching for a shred of irrefutable proof that a handgun bullet would physically knock a human being off of his feet reliably.

The problem was I couldn't find any data to support my argument.

I was wrong.

And if that weren't bad enough. The people I learned that from, who I thought were more knowledgeable than me in these matters were also wrong.

And if they could be wrong about knockdown power what else were they capable of being wrong about?

Holy plastic nutcracker, they could be wrong about .... EVERYTHING!

This meant only one thing: I would have to verify everything I ever learned. I would have to test it. I would have to do my best to make sure it was valid, not only if I were going to use it or allow it to influence in my own decision making regarding my own safety but especially if I chose to pass that information on to others.

The problem with that is that it's time consuming and exhausting and sometimes there is misleading or dated information out there that needs to be updated. Another problem I've seen is with public opinion. They get used to the way it is and resist change, new ideas or tactics. Instead of looking at those things dispassionately, they resort to rejection.

How was/am I to know what's valid, what can be changed or updated, what's worth considering, what I'm willing to change my mind about and what I'm not?

1) Question everything.
Yes, even the basics, the rules, the absolutes, the truths. If they are worthy they will stand up to scrutiny. If they aren't, they will crumble or will be improved upon.

No, this doesn't mean you have to be the jerk in the back of a class who is interrupting every five seconds to ask, "Why?" (Here's a hint: Most good instructors will already tell you why.) Use some common sense, ask valid questions as they arise, take good notes and go home to research and get your second opinion.

If the information your questioning is in a written or online form use your google-fu.

2) Consider the source.
In this world where anyone can have an opinion and publish it in one forum or another or get some credentials and teach a class, it can be difficult to narrow down whether something is a trustworthy source. There are a LOT of people out there who are vary well-respected (even if that's just locally) and very wrong. There are also people out there who are generally unknown but very knowledgeable. Determining who is worth considering can be difficult. Resort to step 1 and then move on to step 3.

3) Find someone (preferably more than one someone) you can trust.
I have been very fortunate to get acquainted with and even become friends with some great instructors and leading individuals in the gun community. Perhaps one of the reasons I've been so fortunate is because I've sought these people out. I have hunted them down and not been shy about asking them questions.

They base their opinions on experience, they know how to distinguish between tactics that work for police, military and the civilian sector and they aren't intimidated when asked, "What makes you believe this is better than that?" They have been gracious enough to take my questions and give me the time of day to at least point me in the right direction when it comes to information. I've been sent books, given links, had amazing discussions, learned about biases, and even been told, "I don't know."

And that last one should be a big clue. If your trustworthy source isn't willing to say, "I don't know," I doubt their trustworthiness.

Many of these people have been around long enough to know and/or trained with a good number of other instructors and aren't afraid to recommend other classes and instruction or steer you in the right direction to meet your goals.

Be leery of instructors who discourage you from taking classes from any other source but do consider their warnings if they tell you a certain class or instructor isn't particularly up to par. Yeah, every instructor out there wants business and there are feuds so keep an open mind. Do independent research and come to your own conclusion.

But remember step 2. Every instructor and writer and trainer, no matter how good has their biases and/or flaws. Some are biased against certain types of guns or training or methods. It doesn't make them invalid sources but it may be important to see through their bias to avoid casting aside their valid information or instruction.

4) Test it.
It's really easy to take something you learn and think it's the begin-all and end-all of what you need to know, especially if it seemed to work well in a certain environment such as a classroom. I've seen this a lot in women’s' self-defense classes. A technique will be taught as "guaranteed to work" but then I go home and test it on a non-compliant partner and it falls apart.

Some things being taught are just bad all around. And some are just not right  for you. I've seen lots of techniques (or gear or ideas) that work really well for most everyone that just don't work for me. I will give it an honest try but if it doesn't work for me, it doesn't work. It doesn't mean the technique is completely invalid, just not for me. Sometimes it means that the technique just needs to be worked more to be perfected or adapted to your size and abilities. If it can't be adapted and you've given it an honest effort and it's still not working for you (or not working reliably) it might be time to ditch it.

The only way to know that, however, is to test it as often as you can.


This step goes hand-in-hand with step 1. If it's valid, it will work. If it's not it will fall apart or need changing or adapting.

5) Don't stop going through the steps... Ever.
Even if something has been tried and tested one hundred times or you've done it this certain way since the first time or you heard it from a hundred different sources, doesn't mean you stop questioning it, updating it, reevaluating it's place in how you prepare, train or think.

You may just learn a new way to apply that same principle or you might find something that works better. But you won't if you aren't willing to open up to different avenues of learning and training.

In a world where everything changes, the ones who fall behind will be the ones who think they have it all figured out.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Stripping Vs Dumping Magazines

If you train at any number of shooting schools long enough you will find that even if they agree on certain aspects of shooting where they can almost violently disagree is in the small stuff.

How many forum death matches have been waged over whether or not to use the slide release or rack the slide; whether to use to the strong side thumb to release a magazine or the support hand; whether to bring a gun to a low ready or high, SUL or something else?

Just as hotly debated is the sequence of events surrounding magazine changes.

For the first four or five years I carried and trained in firearms I traditionally hit the magazine release with my strong-side thumb while retrieving a fresh magazine and pretty much expected the magazine well of my gun to be empty by the time I got back with my fresh magazine.

When I went to the Tactical Defense Institute for the second time (the first time was a knife class so there wasn't a lot of talk about magazine changes) I was introduced to the concept of "stripping" an empty (or troubled) magazine from the gun before retrieving a fresh one.

With stripping the magazine, once the firearm is empty and the slide locks back, or if the gun jams to the point where a magazine change is required, one hits the magazine release with the strong-side thumb (or however they hit the release for lefties) and physically rips or "strips" the magazine from the auto-loader with the support hand before retrieving a fresh magazine.

The reasons the instructors gave for this were primarily three-fold:
1. Your magazine can get hung up and doesn't always drop free.
2. You could be in a strange position where gravity will not help your magazine out of the gun.
3. If your gun is jammed with what is commonly known as a "double-feed" (or, more accurately, a failure to extract). Your magazine will not fall free and you will have to physically tear it from the gun.

I've always appreciated the attitude of the TDI instructors. They don't go to any deep lengths to force you to do things their way (as long as you are being safe) but they do ask you at least try their method, see if it works for you and move on. If it doesn't, no big deal.

I can respect that. So I tried it. It was a heck of an effort to back pedal and unlearn just hitting the button.

It took some effort but it's become my standard reload to the point where I would have to unlearn the practice if I tried to change it again. I don't see that happening because I've seen the benefits of it several times, especially since I have been going to different classes that require shooting from strange positions with firearms and have higher rates of malfunctions because of said strange shooting positions.

The most glaring example was while I was at ECQ last fall. We were practicing drawing and shooting from all sorts of strange positions on the ground, one of them being flat on our back, shooting over our heads. I'd taken shots from all sorts of strange positions before so that wasn't particularly new and when my slide locked open upon empty, I didn't even think about it, I stripped the magazine, retrieved a fresh one, reloaded my gun and just kept shooting.

My husband happened to be taking video and took a quick screen shot.
Stripping the empty before retrieving a fresh magazine

Now, I'll be the first to say this isn't a perfect magazine change. I could have brought it back to my chest so I didn't have an empty gun just sticking out over my head, my hands wouldn't have had so far to travel, yada, yada, yada, but for the purpose of getting more ammo in the gun it was enough. I was reloaded and shooting again before it really even dawned on me that my newer practice of stripping a magazine vs dropping or dumping it made a change in a position like this a total non-issue.

Being able to strip my magazines more effectively (especially if really jammed up) is also why I have cutouts in the bottom of both of my Glocks.

Try it out. See what you think.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

All Is Lost

I stopped at the library on my way home from my CPR renewal class last night and picked up the movie All is Lost with Robert Redford. The librarian warned me it was boring but I wasn't looking for spectacular, just something to relax on the couch with and my son loves ship wreck movies.

She was right. It was pretty boring. My son--the lover of ship wrecks and storms--fell asleep on my lap ten minutes into it and my daughter just snuggled next to me and would rather look at text on my cell phone that she couldn't read than watch the movie.

When my husband got home I was telling him about it and though I admitted it was boring I said, "But it has some good learning points for pretty much anyone." I fell asleep thinking about them and figured I'd share this morning.

Don't worry. I won't spoil anything if you actually want to watch the movie but for those of you who don't (or have never heard of the movie), it's the story of a lone man on a sail boat who has an accident out at sea and pretty much everything that can go wrong eventually does. I'm no sailor so I can't tell you what the character did technically right or technically wrong, etc, but I can say there were a few things that stood out to me.

1. He had the equipment on-hand to handle almost every emergency he faced. 

And it wasn't a bunch of McGyver fixes either. The movie opens with a hole being smashed into the side of his boat. He is able to patch it with what looked to be a legitimate hull-patching kit. When he's forced to navigate without a computer he digs out a sextant (yep, I had to google what that was).

At every step of the way, when a new emergency arises the character rather calmly goes to this or that nook or cranny and pulls out this or that tool which was made to assist in that particular emergency situation. Yes, the movie could have been made more interesting if he had to make up all of these emergency preparations along the way but I was far more impressed with a movie portraying a prepared individual vs a clever fool.

The take away of that is, of course, to have the right tools for the job. When it comes to self defense not everything can be solved using any one tool. Having things like flashlights, spare magazines, pepper spray, medical supplies, guns, knives, give you options for all sorts of emergencies that may come up.

2. What broke he tried to fix but didn't dwell on it.

When the hull is damaged he attempts a patch, when the radio breaks he attempts a fix. This pattern repeats itself quite a few times throughout the movie. But what was interesting to me was that the character didn't obsess over one particular repair for any undue length of time. If his repairs weren't successful and it wasn't vital to life he moved on.

This has an application to many different aspects to self defense starting with the equipment we use or even the way we handle the initial contact of a potentially dangerous person.

Your gun jams. You clear the jam. It jams again. You clear it. You repeat the pattern over and over again instead of changing to something more useful.

You see someone approaching and you tell them to stop. They don't stop. So you tell them to stop again and again and again and again. You get stuck in a rut of commands instead of moving on to something that might actually put you in a better position.

You shoot an assailant in the chest 16 times but he still doesn't go down it's probably time to target another area.

When something doesn't work the way it's supposed to work or doesn't go the way you planned it to go, it's okay to try to salvage that equipment, technique, command, etc, but only a very limited number of times. Getting stuck in a rut is unproductive. Move on.

3. He prepared in advance.

When he saw the storm coming he got on his wet gear, he tethered himself to the boat, he buttoned down the hatches, he filled his emergency water container, prepped his life raft, etc.

It goes without saying that most of us carry guns because we want to be prepared in advance for a self defense and/or lethal force emergency. But there are so many more emergencies out that that we don't prepare ourselves for that pose just as much or far greater risk to us.

If you see a questionable situation, avoid or put yourself in better position to get out or respond. Don't wait until it's all crashing down around you to act.

And this goes a lot further than self defense, too.

As winter is approaching, prep that car for snow and ice. In the summer, prep your car or house for heat related emergencies. Prepare for the common natural disasters in your area.

Prep your body to withstand the rigors of running and fighting if you can.

4. He had resources on hand for and to learn skills he didn't already have.

When the main character accepted that he would no longer have modern navigation at his disposal, he retrieves a nautical navigation book and starts to read.

Lot of people like to think certain things will never happen to them or that certain information isn't relevant to them. A lot of articles and discussions, classes, etc, are ignored because they deal with issues that aren't very unlikely. A good example of this is medical issues and supplies, law, abductions, etc.

Many don't carry medical supplies because they aren't trained and think it's useless to carry supplies they don't know for certain how to use.

I remember the moment I got a tension neumothorax needle. I told my friend, "I don't think I'll put this in my bag because I don't know how to use it." He said, "That doesn't mean there won't be a paramedic or nurse or someone else on scene who does."

He had a good point.

Just because you don't have a skill doesn't mean someone else doesn't. It also doesn't mean you can't learn a few things and put them into the back of your brain for the unlikely or have some other resources on hand to learn.

We all have spare tires in our cars. Many of us have no clue how to change a tire. But in the event of a need we all know we can go in our glove boxes, get the owner's manual and figure it out.

Invest in a few self defense law books. Get yourself gunsmithing manuals for the firearms you own. Get an emergency medical textbook. Have resources on hand to learn and supplies for those who may already be educated.

5. When his survival was on the line he improvised. 

Despite all the pre-planning, the equipment, the skills and resources there were a few situations where the character had things go wrong, he wasn't as prepared or his preparations failed and he had to make it up as he went along. In which case he improvised and came up with ways to survive.

Sometimes, when it's all coming to pieces we have to make it up as we go along. It may not be perfect. It may not be pretty but it might just get us out alive.

6. He put it all on the line. 

Again, without going into any spoilers, there comes a point in the movie where the main character pretty much throws all caution to the wind and puts everything on the line to be rescued.

Sometimes, despite all of our preparations and planning and equipment we have to make a bold move that will mean life or death. When that time comes it's no one's decision but your own and you'd better have made your peace with outcome either way.

Monday, March 3, 2014


The Holster and Magazine Section of the Gear Chest
I had my carry permit for less than five months the first time I had a BAD carry day. I was working in an office and was running late for work. I grabbed a flimsy skirt off my bedroom floor, a fresh shirt out of the closet, grabbed a cheap nylon one-size-fits-most clip holster and shoved my Kimber Stainless Ultra Carry inside my waistband clipped to nothing but the side of my skirt. I wasn't even to my car before I wanted to ditch the whole setup. My skirt was digging into my side. The gun was flopping all over the place and on the verge of falling out all day. I was being poked with the muzzle and fighting concealment. If it weren't for my commitment to carry I probably would have given up concealed carry on that day. By the time I got home from work eight hours later I couldn't wait to take my gun off and don't even want to describe the raw meat my waist had been turned into.

I learned how important good gear could be to the carry experience and how bad gear can ruin everything or at least make you want to leave your gun at home or seriously compromise the security of your concealment and carry. So much has changed since that day and now I'm happy to say it's been a LONG time since I've experienced a bad carry day. I have a very good working system for myself that I can count on in a pinch and that is important to everyone who decides to carry a gun.

We all have those moments when we need to get out the door post hast. We're running late, we got a last minute appointment, there's an emergency and we need to gear up.

Finding good gear is a process that often varies by individual, gun, body type, etc, and may take some time to get perfect but eventually we should all get to a point where we have FAST gear that we can count on in a rush.

  • Fit:
The gear should fit well with a wide variety of applications, clothing styles and your general lifestyle. Sure, there are always those days and moments where things get mixed up a bit but everyone should have a setup that, for the most part, would work on any given day. For some that could be smart carry and an XD or a shoulder holster with a j-frame. For others it might be an IWB holster and a 1911.

The holster should fit the gun. Spare magazine pouches should fit the spare magazine. I know I'm preaching to the choir here but I've seen (and sold) many holster that "could" fit the gun if these few stitches were let out or if you cut this strap or cut a hole in the bottom for the sight. Ill-fit holsters will cause you nothing but trouble in the long run. Spend the extra money, get yourself a quality, well-fitting holster and spare magazine pouch.

Your belt should be fit to your body and your gear (if applicable). If you commonly wear IWB holsters with your gun you might have to have a belt with a wider range of adjustability. If OWB is your primary carry method you may need a tighter fitting belt. If you carry a heavier gun, knife and spare magazine you may need a more robust belt to support the weight of your equipment. Choose your belt carefully to support you and your needs.

Pocket knives should fit in your pockets or on body in such a way that they are comfortable and you won't be tempted to take them off. The same could also be said of flashlights and other pocket tools. If these things do not fit well into pockets or your clothing doesn't have good pockets (like a lot of female clothing) consider purchasing only those tools with clips that can attack to waistbands or belts. Most flashlights and pocket knives and even many fixed-blade knives have belt or clip attachments available.

  • Accessible
What's the point of having stuff you can't find? If you are in a hurry and can't locate a specific item you are most likely going to leave without it. We have a gear chest that sits close to the door. Everything but guns goes in that chest and I know exactly where I can find the things I need from holsters to spare magazines and pouches to knives, flashlights, ammo and even shooting glasses. Don't risk leaving something important behind by not having it accessible.

It should also be accessible on body. Your tools are only as good as their accessibility in a fight and if you have to get through several layers or into bags, etc, you might be forfeiting your use of that tool in the fight. Yes, some of us have to have deeper concealment than others but make it as accessible as possible.

  • Secure
The security of your defensive tools should be paramount. I attended a FOF class where the airsoft gun I was using did not fit my regular carry holster and I had to borrow someone else's one-size-fits-most for the first half of the first day. My airsoft gun fell out of the holster once, ejected my magazine on me once, and often moved around on my waist while I was running or fighting. These things should never happen. PERIOD! Your gear should be secure on your body so that you can run, fight, or even work and play without worrying about it.

Belt loops should be strong. Belts should be sturdy. Holsters should be in good repair. Snaps should be solid. Clips should be well-formed. Locking mechanisms should be fastened. Your gear should be secure on your body.

  • Tested
There is a time for testing your gear and as someone who reviews holsters for various individuals I sometimes take the risk of carrying in "untested" gear as a means to test it. Though I usually have a back up near by. But when it comes down to a moment that I am running out the door not willing to take on the role of reviewer or tester or don't want to make sure I have a reliable backup I will always revert to tried and true and well-tested equipment. I choose guns that have gone through hundreds (if not thousands) of rounds of accuracy and reliability. I choose holsters, belts, flashlights, knives, sheaths, pepper sprays and other tools that I have carried many times before and have proven themselves to work through trainings and experience. There is no (and should be no) doubt that, if needed, my equipment will work.

And it's always a good idea to do a quick test while gearing up. Test that flashlight and make sure it still works. Drop that magazine and make sure it's fully loaded. Check the chamber and make sure it's loaded. Pull on your holster and make sure nothing has broken or ripped. Deploy your knife to make sure the blade comes out smoothly and nothing has broken. Make sure you have disabled any major locking devises like the key-lock on your S&W revolvers or Taurus 1911s.

Having a system of FAST gear will insure you are equipped in those moments of hast.