By Abner Miranda
At the most recent class I attended (Talon Defense: Vehicle Defense) I noticed a recurring pattern that had, until now, managed to be so normal that I never really paid attention to it. It was the students’ failure to transition to pistol when a rifle malfunction occurred. Rest assured that I count myself in that lot. As most of you know, I run video cameras when I attend classes so I capture and analyze what is being taught. Because of this, I spend an inordinate amount of time studying video. This affords me a unique basis of knowledge that few in this industry have. It's astounding how much information you can pick up from the shooter when you put a camera on the side of their head, and another on the instructor who is right on them.
I spend several days, after a class, editing hours of data into a manageable video. Imagine how many times I watch the same drill being run by disparately different shooters. This is what I do. Some guys study sports physiology, I study shooting physiology. Economy of motion is a big thing in trimming time off of an athletic performance. Likewise, economy of motion is also what is needed to trim time in transitioning from one weapon to another during a fight.
The point at which I see things go belly up in a rifle class is when the instructor walks up behind the student and creates a malfunction in their rifle by placing a stick right beside the ejection port. You’d be amazed how easy it is to jam up a weapon with the slightest interruption of the recoil/ejection cycle. When people watch my videos I often hear them say "didn't the shooter see the instructor coming?” The answer to that is a great big nope! Not only does the shooter not see the instructor coming, quite often they’re completely befuddled as to what has just occurred to their weapon. Stress inoculation does weird things to otherwise rational people.
No, you don’t know what you’re going to do under stress. Yes, you most certainly are going to tunnel in and fail to see things around you. I’ve lost count of how many times guys have said “wow, I didn’t realize I did that...” when I show them their video. This is why a good defense attorney will not allow their client to make a statement right after a shooting has occurred. You have to have at least two sleep cycles under your belt before your brain can even begin to sort out the sensory overload of a shooting.
This is how it normally goes in training. The instructor would create a malfunction and the shooter would fail to release the rifle and transition to their pistol. Why? Because they were caught in what I refer to as vapor lock. It’s an automotive term look it up. When you vapor lock under stress you’ll fail to do things that are patently obvious at any other time. Your mind keeps telling you “no I can fix this malfunction and get back in the fight.” It’s at that point where the instructor starts screaming “transition!” The fact is that in less time that is needed to fix a malfunction you could have continued the fight with your pistol, moved to a different location than where your enemy saw you last, and have fixed your rifle.
Remember I study performance video on this sort of thing for a living. I watch some guys fight a rifle for 10 seconds after a malfunction, without moving to a new location, they finally get it up but are now behind the eight ball. Other guys transition to their pistol, ring the steel, move to a new location, clear the malfunctioned rifle and have it back up in five seconds. I’ve done it, and seen it done.
The good news is that vapor locking lessens over time. As the shooter gets more skilled in controlling the effects of stress inoculation, their peripheral vision opens up and they do, indeed, see the instructor coming at them to create a malfunction. More than all of that is that the shooter gets adept at treating malfunctions as a catalyst that triggers a series of maneuvers that gets them out of trouble.
In combat there is something known as “posturing.” It’s also known as the “bigger bang theory.” I’m going to do a more in-depth article on this soon but the concise way to put it is that he who makes the bigger bang usually keeps the other guy’s head down. What that means is that if you continue to make a good accounting of yourself, in a fight, the bad guys are going to see you as more of a threat than they previously thought. That might, might get them to duck their heads long enough for you to transition to NIKE, and high tail it out of there. How do you do this? By keeping your rate of fire up. How do you do this? By instantly transitioning from your rifle to your pistol the instant that it goes “click.” How do you train yourself to do this? I’m glad you asked.
Fixing The Problem
I take four identical rifle mags out with me and set them up with random amounts of live ammo and dummy rounds hidden in the ammo stack. I shuffle the mags around on the table until I’ve lost all clue of which one is which. I do this because I want to be off balance during this drill. That is to say that I don’t want to know when I’m going to get a “click” as opposed to a “bang.” I also work from cover using 55 gallon, plastic barrels stacked two high, three across. This set up totally sucks me in, and it always seems to happen that just as I have a target rocking on its heels, my rifle gives me a “click” and I feel like I’m drowning as I fight to get that rifle out of the way and get my pistol out in front. The targets I shoot are made of reactive steel. They fall after being hit a couple of times, and because there are eight of them I have a lot of angles I can work.
I ran this drill a couple of weeks ago for the first time and can honestly tell you that I felt like I was constantly tripping over myself while doing it. This is where video analysis comes in.
Always Run Video
I bought a cell phone adapter and tripod, last year, for the purpose of always having some way to capture video on my phone without having to rely on someone else being on the range with me. When I started using them for transition drills they gave me the proof I needed to improve my range time. I set the phone up to record, I run the drill with a mag’s worth of ammo, usually no more than a total of 12 rounds with a couple of dummy rounds in the stack. I then go back to my range table and load the mag while watching the run on my phone. Talk about the best feedback possible. No matter how many times someone tries to tell you what they’re seeing, they can’t touch the power of video.
In closing I want to take a different tact and caution you against running a wide variety of weapons and equipment as a regular thing. I’ve been in the firearms industry for a decade now. Several years ago I put my foot down and swore that I’d never again go to a class to test a weapon. That is to say that I wouldn’t go to a class with an unproven firearm as my primary learning tool. You spend so much time, money, and effort to go to firearms training that the last thing you need to do is go with something that hasn’t proven itself to you. I often tell folks to find a setup that works well for them and stick with it. Get a good rifle, learn it, and stick with it. Get a
Glock 17 or 19 with good sights. Learn it and stick with it. Run your drills faithfully under camera, don’t cheat yourself by cutting corners and setting yourself up to look good for your social media page. Do the hard work, work on what you’re worst at. Choose good support gear and learn how to use it efficiently. I run Basham slings for my rifles and Bravo Concealment holsters for my pistols...period! I don’t deviate from that set up because I’m not playing games to give exposure to the highest paying advertiser. I’m training to save lives by being the deadliest guy in the room.
As always, God bless you all, get those guns out and practice. Have a good one!
~Abner Miranda is a former Police Officer, an FBI trained Hostage Negotiator, a First Responder, and Spanish Interpreter. He is currently a Firearms Instructor, an Armorer, and a regular contributor to our industry of both written and digital media. You can see more of Abner’s work on his YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/daddycop3