DECEMBER 13, 2022

Guest Shot: Drills Vs. Skills

Today’s feature is from correspondent Dave Spaulding

“SKILL: the ability, coming from one's knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well with a high expectation of success.”

“DRILL: any methodical, repetitive, or mechanical training, instruction, or exercise. Proof of skill.”

Skill is the ability to perform an activity with a high expectation of success on the first attempt. A drill - in our case a shooting drill - is intended to show proof that a skill(s) can be performed. Skills must be learned, understood, practiced, mastered and then anchored to a level of what the motor learning community calls automaticity or what many think of as “auto pilot” or “unconscious competence.”

In a gunfight, where we are fighting to save our life or the life of someone we care about, we can’t be thinking about how to perform the skills that will make us victorious; we need to be focusing on the fight itself, what our opponent is doing and what actions (based on our anchored skills) we can take to counter his/her moves. The shooting part of this conflict must be performed without conscious thought. If there were ever a time to perform a skill(s) to a high level of success COLD this would be it! What are the chances you just finished a 300-round practice session when your gunfight breaks out?

What part does shooting drills play in this process? Is shooting a drill the same as winning a gunfight? Should we be overly fascinated with a popular shooting drill? To my way of thinking, a drill is nothing more than a test of a skill or skill sets. Emphasis should not be placed on shooting a successful drill, but on executing the needed skills at a high level so the drill will be a success. They are not the same thing. Instead of practicing the drill over and over until success is achieved, the student of combative pistolcraft should practice the required skills for that drill. This includes the smooth and efficient “chunking” together of skills into one fluid motion. As a matter of fact, it is this “chunking” process that makes any drill important as a drill is not a fight…it is merely a practice method for the anchoring of skills so they can be performed together automatically.

Greg Moats image.

Combatants fail in conflict because they do not have the ability to put skills together in such a way as to prevail. The person who prevails in armed conflict is the one who sees the situation for what it truly is, adapts accordingly and applies the required skill sets needed to win.

To become a “slave” to any drill is just silly, but I see it all the time. Regularly, my students tell me “I’ve been practicing the 2x2x2 Drill almost every day” and I ask “why?” “So I can win the buckle” is the normal response. Wrong answer. While practice is certainly worthwhile, it is the wrong train of thought. The 2x2x2 Drill is meant to test the skills of a smooth draw (from the student’s normal mode of carry), the gun arriving where it is needed, a clean trigger depression and recoil control performed in conjunction with the re-staging of the trigger for the second shot. There is a lot going on in a very short time frame. My response to these students? “Don’t practice the drill, practice the skills that will make the drill a success!” It’s all in how you think about the process.

Drills should reinforce the proper execution and application of skill sets…they should not become the central focus of the student’s practice regime. They should be the test of the skills practiced and nothing more. Yes, it is fun and challenging to shoot such drills, but they are a means to and end and not the result. To my way of thinking, drills should be shot at the beginning of a practice session COLD so they can offer an indication of where you stand in regards to skill development. To shoot them over and over until success is achieved is just false expertise.

In addition, the drills should be difficult…a challenge! If the shooter can do the drill on demand without difficulty, then the skills required are either anchored or the drill is just something the shooter likes to do, is good at and is not really a challenge. The drill should also have meaning. I see instructors use drills in courses they like or look good shooting, but what do they mean? How do they advance student skill? How does it help them win!!! If there is no answer to these questions then the student should move on.

For example, my 9 in 9 Drill requires the shooter to draw and fire three rounds at fifteen feet into a 3 x 5 card, move laterally fifteen feet, plant and shoot three more into a 3 x 5 card before moving laterally again to the original position for three more rounds. What does it mean? The drill is used to get the student to chunk together the essential skills of drawing, shooting accurately (a 3 x 5 card is roughly the size of the heart and aorta), controlling recoil, moving explosively of the X to another position, planting, shooting accurately and then changing direction ASAP as if their original action did not solve the problem. A “passing” time is 12 seconds with all hits, though the goal is to do so in 9 seconds. These are skills that have been used in actual gunfights time and again.

At my former training company, every drill we used in our courses was meant to reinforce a skill -- or set of skills -- that we felt was ESSENTIAL to prevailing in conflict and we always explain these reasons. We did not do arbitrary, random, trendy or the like. Our drills were challenging, meaningful and required regular practice in order to complete them successfully on demand. Even though they are drills of my creation I cannot do them successfully unless I have been practicing the required skills. Yep! I fail regularly…but I then know what I need to work on…something drills are really good at telling us.

Shoot drills by all means…but shoot them with purpose and do not let them control your practice sessions. Remember, practice is training and training is preparation…preparation is undertaken because you are smart enough to know you need it.

-- Dave Spaulding