In early July I offered a summer session of the Beyond the Basics: Pistol class that sold out so quickly that I added a second session, scheduled for Sunday July 22. 11 students undeterred by heat advisories and predictions of triple digit temperatures attended the course.
BEYOND THE BASICS: PISTOL
The Beyond the Basics: Pistol course was the original KR Training class: the first class I advertised and taught back in 1991. The objective of the course was to tune up and improve handgun skills of shooters already capable of shooting 90% or better on the Texas License to Carry qualification of fire.
A lot of curriculum was (and still is) tied closely to the contents of Brian Enos’ excellent Practical Shooting Beyond Fundamentals book. In that book he breaks handgun shooting down into 5 types, based on the target size and distance. The vast majority of handgun shooters fire every shot as a Type 3 (traditional sight picture with moderate speed trigger manipulation) – which produces decent results on targets 0-10 yards (most of the time) but begins to fall apart at longer distances. Most defensive pistol classes spend a majority of time on improving speed at the most common defensive distances (3-5 yards), which is roughly what Brian calls Type 2 shooting – using a rough sight picture with visual focus on the target. Often this is taught simply by requiring the students to shoot faster, which usually produces the desired result as they have to accept less precise sight pictures to make the par times for drills.
The skill that usually falls through the cracks is development of the ability to shoot slower than Type 3: to spend a little more time getting sight alignment more precise, and most importantly manipulate the trigger with more care when a precision shot, for example a head shot at 10 yards, is the goal.
SMOOTH, SLOW and FAST
The phrase “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” is frequently quoted in online discussions about improving handgun skill. It’s wrong. Bad technique executed slowly may not be smooth and it may not produce good results. On a close target, bad technique executed quickly may produce acceptable results. And those expecting to become faster through deliberate, slow, smooth practice may never get faster.
It’s like driving. To learn to drive well at 70 mph, start by learning to drive at slower speeds until your technique is good. Then to learn to handle the car at faster speeds requires actually going faster. Similarly, to learn how to handle the car in rough terrain requires different techniques and slower speeds.
The process to improve is:
1) Understand that targets at different distances and of different sizes require varying degrees of sight alignment and trigger manipulation. Breaking the concept down into different ‘gears’, with specific par time/accuracy goals related to target size/distance seems to help.
2) Practice each type of shooting to meet the speed and accuracy goals.
3) Be able to quickly shift between shooting types, adjusting speed and accuracy as needed to get the required hits.
The majority of the students registered for the course had taken one or more classes from me in the past, and I took advantage of that situation to modify the course curriculum to (a) present some of the concepts in the course differently than I have in the past and (b) split the lecture into two parts, one at the start of class and one mid-class, both to get us all out of the heat and back in the A/C for a break, and to improve the presentation of topics.
In the old format, I went through all the fundamentals of marksmanship (gun fit, grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, follow through) in depth in a single lecture, followed by drills on the range. This time I broke the class into two parts: one focused on isolating each type of shooting as a separate skill, and one where the skills were combined.
The first part of class incorporated segments of the “Super Test” drill, that’s shot on an NRA B-8, with varying time limits for 5, 10 and 15 yards. This particular drill is excellent for defining the relative speeds associated with different target sizes and distances. In the past I had my own drills for this concept, but using the more-widely used Super Test worked very well.
The second part of the class focused on a drill Ben Stoeger calls “Distance Changeup”, where multiple targets at varying ranges have to be engaged, adjusting speed and accuracy as needed.
My class version of it used two targets, as I called a variety of options for each repetition of the drill (using the head and body of each target to give 4 different target sizes/distances).
A lot of the older lecture material in the course on fundamentals has trickled down into my Basic Pistol 1, Handgun Coaching, and Basic Pistol 2 classes, making it possible to trim some of that content from Beyond the Basics, using that time for more work on higher level concepts. Students attending future sessions of this course will get the updated version of the curriculum, as it seemed to work well in the new format.