Before I explain the topic at hand, let me give you a little background. It will help provide some context to what I am about to say.

Many of you know from reading this weekly column that I am a law enforcement officer and have been one for more than 37 years. I am also a Police Academy Commander and Law Enforcement Trainer, holding instructor certifications in all the major law enforcement topic areas.

I have been a Certified Police Firearms Instructor since 1986. I became a Certified Police Defensive Tactics Instructor in 1991. I was certified as an instructor in Aerosol Subject Restraints (chemical defense sprays) in 1993. I was the first law enforcement officer outside of California to be certified as an LAPD Arrest and Control Instructor in 1996. I was certified as a Taser Instructor in 2005. I also hold instructor certifications in three different computer-operated use-of-force firearms training systems: the J.udgement U.nder S.tress T.raining system, the IES Range 2000 and the IES MILO. In 31 years of law enforcement training, I have been able to work with and observe hundreds of police academy cadets, law enforcement officers and civilians.

Firearms and self-defense training are key foundations of the USCCA. Without our training component, we wouldn’t be an organization that covers all the bases for those who choose to defend themselves with or without the use of firearms.

Training before you get your concealed carry permit — and after you have obtained it — is very important. In Ohio, law enforcement officers are required to qualify on their handguns once per calendar year on a 25-round course of fire. While our state qualification course is sorely lacking, at least it is something. Hopefully you readers do more shooting and training than that every year!

But firearms training — any firearms training — is only an approximation of what will occur in the real world. It will condition you to certain real-life responses that approximate what you practiced in training — even if you trained in techniques that achieved “muscle memory.” A point of order here first, folks. There is no such thing as “muscle memory.” The biological and physical fact is that muscles can’t remember anything; they have no brains implanted in their structure. When you train in multiple repetitions, you are developing the neural pathways in your BRAIN that allow you to eventually repeat that same action without consciously thinking about it. The “muscle memory” term is used in training to help trainees understand better what they are trying to achieve: action without thought.

Once you have developed the neural pathways of certain actions to the point that they come without thinking, you can perform them very well under training environment situations. But, when you are forced to use those techniques in real-world defensive situations, they likely will be an approximation (albeit an important approximation) of what you learned in a classroom environment. This is because of the variables out there in the real world that you cannot predict or account for in practice. Those variables are:

  1. Your reactions, as influenced by physiological factors, including injury to yourself
  2. The actions or reactions of the most unpredictable and dangerous animals on the planet — other human beings
  3. Environmental factors

Everyone knows that when you are under stress, your body and mind are flooded with hormones designed to aid you in your defense — if you understand their actions. The stress hormones affect your movements and reactions and can support or interfere with certain actions you take. They can also change your immediate plans into an approximation of what you intended to do — especially if you are injured, which is an infinitely variable condition in and of itself. It is impossible to predict how all those factors will work together, and a lot of it depends on how cool you are “under fire.” Here is an illustration of this factor that occurred early on in my career; in fact, it occurred in my state Shotgun Instructor Certification Course. The effects of stress on a plan are something I have never forgotten.

We had already completed our certification training and were having a fun competition at the end of class. Down range at 21 feet were three bad guy targets. Spaced in the front of the bad guy targets were four good guy hostage targets.

We were to fire one shot from the shotgun on each of the three bad guy targets, then draw our handguns and fire two shots from the handgun on the same bad guy targets as quickly as we could. Any hits on the good guy targets would disqualify us from the competition.

I was the fourth one in my bay to run through the course. As I watched the other instructors run through ahead of me, I planned my “attack.” I decided the most efficient way to handle the problem was to fire the three rounds from the shotgun, hold it in my left hand and then fire the six shots from my Colt 1911 one-handed. I ran it in my head over and over. Then it was my turn.

I fired the course quickly and smoothly and had solid hits on the bad guys, with no hits on the hostages. A buddy of mine congratulated me as I returned to the line, telling me I had a great run (at least one of the other instructors before me had been disqualified). I told him I was able to do it because of running the course the way I planned — holding the shotgun in my left hand while shooting my handgun with the right. My buddy said,  “That’s not what you did. You took a kneeling position after firing the shotgun, laid it on the ground and fired your handgun with both hands!” I was astounded. It took a while for me to realize he was right. I would have bet my next paycheck that I performed on the drill just the way I had planned. And if he hadn’t debriefed me right away, I would have never thought any different. Just that small level of stress from a friendly competition was able to skew my perception that much!

The second factor that makes any training an approximation is the unpredictability of your foe. He or she will not react in the way you expect or likely have trained for, and this is compounded when multiple attackers are involved. Some of the variations possible for each person include direction of attack, movement during and after the attack, weapon used, amount of determination to commit the attack, influence of drugs and alcohol and motivation. On top of that, throw into the mix the attacker’s own individual physical reactions. The classic example of this is that of perpetrators being shot with reasonably powerful weapons and continuing to fight. It is impossible to predict what will happen on the part of an assailant.

The final factor is the environmental one. If the attack is inside, what are the conditions (lighting, internal structure, etc.)? When the situation happens outside, add in the factors of weather, ground conditions — mud, loose gravel, asphalt, glass, sand, ice, fog, snow, rain — and even traffic. All of these complicate the situation and make all your trained reactions to any attack approximate.

Now, none of what I am saying means that you shouldn’t train. Far from it. Train for as many situations as possible. But realize there is simply no way to account for the variables in every situation and in all possible conditions. You will have to do the best you can. Focus on the threats as they present themselves. Focus on sight acquisition and trigger control if you are using your firearm. And in the aftermath of any shooting situation, remember this:  Don’t give a written statement until after you have an attorney and after you have a chance to collect yourself. Remember what happened to me in Shotgun Instructor School. If you go to some higher-end training, you will experience the same type of physiological distortions as well. You want to be accurate in your recounting of the events that occurred the first time and don’t want to have to change or add to your first statement. And, finally, make sure you belong to the USCCA and have their Self-Defense SHIELD. I do.