Fine Motor Skills vs. Gross Motor Skills

I woke up this morning thinking, “I really want to start a fight.” And, you know, 9mm vs .45 has just been done to death. So let’s talk about fine motor skills and their importance to shooting.

You’ve all heard that under stress, our body’s natural response is often vasoconstriction. Muscles tense up and push the blood out of our extremities to our important places like the heart and lungs. This muscle tension makes it difficult to use our fingers to complete complex tasks. I have heard police officers say, “My hands felt like clubs.” As a result, the training mantra over the years has been for shooters to focus on using only gross motor skills, the actions that do not require extreme dexterity, during training. The thought process is that, if you train enough, you will automatically default to the correct action and you will be able to complete that action even if you are suffering the effects of vasoconstriction because you will be using gross motor skills.

Much of that makes sense and lots of people have bought in to the idea that in firearms training, fine motor skills are bad and should be avoided. Instructors will tell you to never use the slide lock as a slide release because the action of swiping your thumb down across that slide lock is a fine motor skill.

Yes, it is a fine motor skill. But my contention is that we use fine motor skills all the time when training to fight with a handgun and we just pick and choose which ones we call out as ineffective.

Consider this: Pressing the trigger is a fine motor skill. Instructors tell shooters all the time to press the trigger slowly and smoothly so as not to pull the muzzle off target. In fact, you “should” press the trigger so slowly and smoothly that you are surprised when the gun fires. Everyone reading this has heard something like that, right? How can you define that as anything BUT a fine motor skill?

It gets better. Shooters are then told to release the trigger “only to the point of reset.” You know “reset” — that delicate little click that lets you know that action has reset and is ready to fire the next shot. Under stress and during the violent and dynamic nature of a gunfight, is that little click really something you will notice and pay attention to? We are training people to do it.

How are the press of the trigger and the release only to reset any more of fine motor skills than sliding your thumb down over the slide lock?

I will argue that some slide lock levers are small and unobtrusive. They are tough to hit even during the best situations. But others are big and easy to find. Could it be left up to the shooter to determine which method works best for him or her?

You know what that last question means, don’t you? It means all those instructors who teach by using the “I’m better than you” or the “My way or the highway” methods of instruction will be giving up some control over their students. Ego is a fragile thing.

It is true that sometimes there is a better way to do some things. Sometimes there is a right way to do some things. But most of the time, there are several ways to accomplish the same task. If we can train people to press the trigger smoothly under extreme stress, perhaps some people, if they want to, could learn to run the slide lock as a slide release with their thumb. And perhaps with a conscientious amount of training and practice, that method will work for those shooters when they need it the most.

What do you think? Should we accept the dogma as written? Or should we explore what is possible and see how it can fit into personal training programs?