If you are a reader of Gunslinger Research you know that we advocate Gun Fighting, not range shooting. Gun Fighting like any martial art requires the blending of multiple components. One of these components that is often overlooked is overcoming injury. Your physical ability will either hinder or increase your performance, thus it is necessary to learn how to overcome injury.
Gunslinger Research is proud to welcome Taylor McCubbin of Chimera Firearms Training to the Gunslinger Research Content Creator Team. He has leveraged his experience as a shooter and instructor to provide Gunslinger Research with an excellent start to growing the base of knowledge around Gun Fighting for uniform professionals.
You can find Taylor on the web at www.chimerafirearms.com or on Facebook!
Improving Shooting Performance With An Injury Or Impairment
By: Taylor McCubbin, Owner Chimera Firearms Training
You might be physically and mentally healthy, or you might not be – if you’re an armed professional, you already know how important your health is to your survival. This article is designed to be read in less than 15 minutes, to discover how you can stay in the fight, no matter what condition your body is in.
Injuries can creep up on us, or come on suddenly. Especially at risk are those working in the military or law enforcement fields, with typical challenges such as walking long distances with heavy loads, jumping out of airplanes, being injured in dangerous situations with unruly members of the public to name a few. Typical injuries I see service members working through include back injuries, reduced stability holding a load, limited knee flexibility, and limited hip flexibility. So how do we continue to perform even with an injury?
First, we should consider the way we look at the injury. Having a positive perspective and being able to work around the injury is not only helpful for shooting ability but it can improve your outlook on daily life. I firmly believe that having a positive attitude and finding out what you can do even with a limitation shows you how limitless you can be. This is easier said than done, however, and must be worked on every day to see results.
The risk of aggravating your existing injury may not be worth the reward, and careful thought must be put into other steps you need to take before jumping right back into shooting like a professional. For example, some slow and consistent mobility exercises to increase flexibility may be called for and necessary to prevent further injury. A lot of good shooting habits come from relaxation, which is only possible if you aren’t gritting your teeth in pain because of the limits of your flexibility. That being said, I will show you ways around typical positions which can help you regardless of limitations.
Mindset & Breathing
During a recent range practice, one of my students was having a very hard time managing the kneeling and standing firing positions. He complained of a bum knee and back problems – ‘I just can’t hold this position steady! I haven’t shot in so long, I forgot how this works’, the soldier told us. My colleague and I gave the soldier some advice to improve his position, which helped a little. On his retest, he went from a 40% mark to passing with a 80% mark. After he passed, elated, he described to us that the critical piece of information which helped was in fact nothing to do with position and hold. It was that we encouraged him to relax, psychologically. We told him to be mentally calm and have a firm belief that eventually he could succeed, to maintain a positive outlook. He employed this and shifted his perspective, and afterwards attributed the reversal in results to this attribute.
Having taken a positive, ideally fresh perspective on the nature of working with our limitations instead of against them, the second idea I suggest you consider is relaxation and breathing. Much can be achieved with proper breathing. Gurus like Mark Divine (creator of Sealfit and author of Unbeatable Mind) use breathing techniques such as the 4-count or ‘box’ breathing. Using a breathing technique to your advantage in daily life, you can achieve reductions in stress, improved mental awareness and situational awareness and even increase happiness.
In the context of working around an injury, breathing allows us to focus on the task at hand and put the pain or discomfort at bay (assuming, again, that we have already done as much as possible to mitigate said pain through medical efforts). Lastly, breathing also allows us to reduce our heart rate to a relaxed state which is great for long distance shooting, and under stress we can reduce our heart rate to a manageable pace for shooting performance (or any other kind of performance for that matter!).
Mark Divine argues in his book that we are hard-wired to do negative self-talk as a survival instinct, in order not to get complacent when the bears might be coming to eat you at night (ok I added that last part). I have seen this become problematic for many, especially those already struggling with a physical impairment or even just feeling out of shape.
The key is to figure out your negative pattern or habit, identify the trigger and replace the reaction with something else. Divine suggests replacing it with a power motto, like “get yourself in gear, you can turn this around”. I believe this can work, but not on its own in this context. You have to be able to use other techniques which help you relax, focus on winning (in this case, making the shot) and trust that over time you will accomplish your goal.
Once you train individual pieces of your “anti-impairment strategy”, you have to trust yourself and believe that you are prepared, and you can win no matter what. For competition shooters, a typical piece of advice is to not care about your score, just make every shot as good as you can, run every match as hard as you can without thinking about the next one or your score overall. I think there’s a common thread there for the everyday-carry armed professional.
The next suggestion I have is to practice modified or unorthodox positions instead of only practicing standard, robotically-explained “service positions”. When I say service positions, I mean the ‘Weaver stance’, the Isosceles standing position, and whatever your firearms instructor told you was the “only” way to shoot.
If it isn’t obvious to you now, please heed these words: there is no one way to shoot. The more time I spend teaching and learning about marksmanship and firearms the more I believe that. There are “best practices”, but sometimes you find they don’t work for you – the only constant is to strive for consistency itself.
Here’s one example that might work for you: when you’re told to get into a kneeling shooting position but find it incessantly uncomfortable, know that you have options. For example, if you find you don’t have flexibility in your rear knee to sit back on it, instead learn to lunge forward into your forward knee. You can even lie your rear leg flat (on the inside of the leg and foot) behind you to create more stability. Try different positions with your support hand as well – holding the magazine well may be your fallback position, but may not be the best one in this case. The key is to ensure you can consistently get hits with your chosen method.
The number one positional advantage you can get is to use a piece of cover around you as a stabilizer. This requires practice and creativity; no two positions will be alike. Of critical importance (for the professionals in the audience) is to not get stuck in any position so much that you are immobile when the target of your lethal force maneuvers around you.
If you do have a long-distance target and time to make the shot, and you can settle into a position, the number one way to maximize the above suggestions is to get natural alignment on target. The typical doctrinal way this is taught is to take a deep breath, check your point of aim (POA); when you’re on it close your eyes, breathe again and be honest with yourself when your eyes open. If your POA drifted significantly, adjust your position to compensate, or so the doctrine says.
I would argue this is too slow, and under stress you are unlikely to do this. You would be better off developing a sense of what a natural position is for you in terms of muscle memory (a consistent, repeatable habit you can settle into immediately), and getting as close to that as possible. How do you discover what this is? Practice, practice, practice.
Losing The Use Of A Limb
In armed professions, it is valuable to think ahead and have a plan when things inevitably go wrong. I have never been shot – but I have heard from people who have shot and been shot that a determined, mentally resilient individual can carry on fighting well after they have been injured. There are many videos that show the human body’s incredible ability to suck up bullets and keep moving.
If injured, your first and only priority is to end the fight, fast. This requires a high level of mental toughness and while the above section may help, it only works if you practice it, put yourself in stressful situations and put it to the test as often as possible. Teamwork is another topic entirely, but communicating and maximizing your resources as a team is part of this strategy.
Lastly, get some practice using one hand/your offhand to shoot. If you are shot or injured during the fight, you may not realize it; adrenaline is a powerful chemical. If you lose functionality in a part of your body, you want to know your immediate action to take to compensate and keep fighting.
Understanding how to build a strong fire position with one hand not only improves two-handed ability, but prepares you for the possibility of only having one useful hand. Possible scenarios could include: dragging a buddy while holding your pistol out and covering, losing control of one hand due to an injury, being stuck holding a piece of equipment awkwardly and shooting with one hand. I have seen many a student find they can shoot much better (with pistols) one-handed, which is also a useful observation for your regular two-handed practice.
Always do this work with a reputable trainer. When entering unknown territory on the range, never attempt a new technique without a knowledgeable instructor walking you through it. You will learn faster and, more importantly, be safer as a result.
Conclusion & Summary
The biggest draws on your body in shooting with an injury are: your mental strength & toughness, your physical flexibility and your endurance strength. Only you know which is weakest and the best way to improve it but here is a summary of what I suggest:
- Learn to develop good mental habits for self-talk, including replacing your negative responses to pulling a shot with “get your hits” or “stay focused”.
- Increase your flexibility, ideally before you get injured. A great way to increase flexibility is through mobility drills and consistent stretching. This implies stretching correctly, and understanding the difference between dynamic and static stretching, as well as the use of tools like a foam roller to help you on your way to better range of motion.
- Increasing your endurance strength through long, slow movements can help with extended periods of stabilizing for a shot when under physical strain due to injury or impairment. Yoga and martial arts like Systema and Brazilian Ju Jitsu can help immensely.
- Know alternative holds and positions in advance, and be prepared to tap into your mental resilience & breathing techniques to keep fighting through your impairment or injury.
What’s your next step? Consider my advice and form an action plan for prevention or preparation for injury! Don’t discover you could have used practice with these techniques in the middle of the fight/practice/competition.
To find exactly the kind of workout that helps with flexibility and endurance strength, check out the best martial arts club in Toronto, Fight Club Martial Arts (Systema) here (www.fight-club.ca).
To put this theory into practice, email me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org to start your journey to being better prepared for shooting with an injury or impairment.
If you’re a veteran of police or military service and found these techniques worked for you under stress let me know! I’m interested in real information, not just my own opinion. Send me an email.
(by the way, I’m not a doctor, and these are ideas I’ve come up with in my experience as much based on science as possible, but in no way are meant to replace your doctor’s recommendations)
See you on the range,
Owner, Chimera Firearms Training
Taylor is a Senior NCO Infantryman with the Canadian Armed Forces. After spending 10 years in the Canadian Army, Taylor has since specialized as a firearms instructor for the Royal Canadian Air Force. While providing a high level of instruction to operational air crew and Military Police, he pioneered a specialized firearms program for airfield security teams.