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Gunfighting skills: Situational awareness and task focus

Force-on-force training and reactive-shooting training helps us perform better in gunfights

Firearms trainers have long been studying the best ways to increase shooting proficiency in gunfight situations. Theories, studies, and experience have helped us grow in knowledge and awareness of the mental and physical aspects of performance.

I’ve had many students participate in gunfights now as well as reports from the field of many of my friends and colleagues in law enforcement and other communities who have been in gunfights.

My own experiences as a law enforcement officer and trainer have given me some crucial insights as well.

Memory Distortion
We all know about situational awareness and how important it is to stay in tune with the people and the environment around you and what is going on at the time. 

We’ve all heard after-action reports of gunfights ranging from “I don’t remember my sights or aiming or trigger or anything” to “I can recall seeing my sight clearly on his chest at close range and pressing controlled shots into him.” 

Dr. Bill Lewinski of the Force Science Institute has helped us with the mental aspects of deadly-force encounters and memory distortion. 

One of the key things I’ve observed in my studies on the subject is the ability of high performers to task focus on the execution of a skill even in  a rapidly evolving situation, while others are so caught up in the moment that they can’t focus successfully.

For gunfights, this focus means on staying on top of the situation as it unfolds, perceiving and orienting rapidly, and then responding to and hitting the threat as soon as possible. This requires a very rapid mental shift from a general situational awareness to a specific focus on the task of delivering fight-stopping hits.

As a trainer I pay very close attention to a student’s ability to transition back and forth between situational awareness and task focus. One of the keys to successfully training a high level of task focus lies in training in environments that simulate the conditions that you will operate in. This necessitates putting the operator under stress and pressure until they acclimate to the conditions and are able to operate in a state of relative calm — making critical decisions under those conditions as well as executing shooting skills with high levels of speed and precision.

Practice, Practice, Practice
We need to ensure that an operator in a shooting situation is able to focus on the various aspects of the reactive shooting cycle so they are making rapid, precise shots in very short time intervals — not just throwing bullets in the general direction of the threat.

In the training I conduct, I seek to help my students focus on the mental aspects of “control under pressure” as well as the technical aspects of shooting. 

•    What did you see (and recall) on the gun in relation to the target?
•    What sort of sight picture did you have (or did you use point shooting)?
•    What did you feel while manipulating the trigger?
•    What shooting grip and platform did you use? 
•    What did you recall after the event in terms of tasks performed?

We then have to put them in situations again and again until they can recall many more things in far greater detail.

I’ve found that this approach can help a shooter become far more competent in their shooting skills in deadly force events, as well as sharpen their skill at recalling the entire situation far more accurately. 

What types of training do you engage in that puts you under stress and pressure and helps you perform better on the street? 

Do you engage in competitive shooting events, martial arts, competitive sports, meditation, etc.?

How often do you shoot? How many rounds a session? Do you use a timer? How long are your sessions? Do you keep records of your progress and skills or just shoot? What type of force-on-force scenarios do you find most helpful? 

Add your comments below or send me an email. We’ll examine some of your responses in a future column. 

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