You have an eighteen-inch wide board, eight feet long, laying on the ground. Your task is to walk the plank so to speak, without falling off. For most people this would be an easy feat to accomplish. "If I fall off," they think, "it's no big deal." And so they safely walk across the board. Raise the board so it's thirty feet off the ground. Now everything changes. "If I fall I may die." The skill level is the same, but now stakes are higher. The key is having confidence in your abilities.
Think about this as it applies to firing a precise, surgical shot. Let's use a three-inch circle as a target, firing a handgun from four yards. Both you and the target are stationary. The pistol is in a "low-ready" position, and you're taking all the time necessary to ensure when you press the trigger it's a good hit. By applying the fundamentals any shooter can make this shot.
Eventually you start using a timer to perform this drill. On the beep you snap the weapon up, scoring a solid hit as efficiently as possible. You begin to learn what type sight picture is necessary to score. For you maybe it's a little more than Cooper's "Flash Sight Picture" but at the same time it's not a "dedicated sight picture" with an intense focus on the front sight. Discovering you can make this shot in a fraction of a second begins to build your confidence.
Next you start working from the holster while taking one step to the left or right. You figure out that in the time it takes you to move one step you can also draw the pistol and make the hit. The time required is more than when you were starting from the ready position, but you also remember that this movement - as long as you have the element of surprise - will buy you time. It will take time for the threat to observe and react to your action.
Now you set up a hostage target in front of the threat. You can see a small part of the threat's head, but in order to obtain a clear sight picture you have to move. This is a drill you practice a lot. As you practice you don't think about shooting cardboard targets. Mentally you're making it as realistic as possible. You've even made copies of people's faces and taped them to the targets.
Your worst nightmare is happening. Your daughter is yelling, thrashing around but the stranger is crouched down and holding tight, his knife against her throat. Your wife is screaming. Teenage son yelling. Threat shouting. Dog barking. It's weird, you see and know all this is happening, but you don't feel a thing. All you know is the muscles of the arm holding the knife are tensing up and the blade is pressing into your daughter's skin.
You've made this shot hundreds if not thousands of times on the range. So, do you think about what happens if you don't get the right sight picture, or jerk the trigger, anticipate the recoil, hesitate or God forbid how will you live with yourself if you royally screw it up and hit your daughter? Or, do you trust in what you know and do what's necessary?
Confidence in your skills is mandatory. If you can do something once you can do it twice. Three successes mean you can do it again and again. After enough repetitions under a variety of conditions you've learned how to do it. Equally important is establishing confidence, knowing you can do it any time and on demand. Oh, and keep in mind, it ain't gotta be pretty, it just has to work.
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of "The Book of Two Guns" - http://shootrite.org/book/book.html writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk's DVD, "Fighting With The 1911