Visualization in Defensive Firearms Training

When people think about defensive shooting benchmarks everyone wants a faster draw.  It makes sense.  The faster you are able to draw you gun and put shots on target, the faster you are likely to stop the threat.  But, that fast draw is about more than just the mechanics.  Don’t get me wrong.  The mechanics are important but the physical skill of drawing isn’t the whole gig.  On the range in practice and training it is often treated that way.  To our defensive detriment.
p1170247With a simple change to your training and practice you can have a significant impact on the efficacy of your efforts.  You don’t need any extra equipment or fancy drills.  You just need some knowledge of violence and your imagination.  You can improve your defensive shooting skills by putting your inner defensive game into play.  I’m talking about visualization.

Why Visualization is Important

When you find yourself involved in a violent defensive encounter you are really involved in a strategic, athletic and emotionally intense competition with incredibly high stakes.  If you want to win that competition you should use the techniques that others use to reach high levels of performance in similar athletic endeavors.  The problem is that it is much more difficult to train and scrimmage defensive shooting because of the lethality of the activity.  Even well run force-on-force training has it’s risks and it’s limits.  Visualization  is simple, safe and effective and it is successfully used by scores of high performers to increase their efficiency.  Visualization can be used by anyone, on any range to increase the effectiveness of their defensive training.

What you Should Visualize

p1630567Remember that draw stroke and the idea that it is more than just the mechanics.  You can increase the potency of your training and decrease your draw time in a real defensive encounter by visualizing the appropriate stimulus.  Instead of using a timer or a verbal command to signal the start of your draw, which is the typical training and practice regimen on the range, use your imagination.   Visualize your potential threat.  Imagine the weapon, their height, weight, skin color, hair color and clothing.  Use your imagination to see their actions and to hear their words.  Then take it a step further and visualize some action.  See the weapon being produced and hear the intent in their voice.  
I bet you get the idea.  See it, hear it and respond to it appropriately.  Then change it up and do it again.  If you are working with a training partner and have multiple targets available your training partner can make calls that tell you what to visualize.  Be creative and determine a way to vary your need for precision and add in some calls that are threats and some that aren’t.  Your job as the shooter is to visualize and then respond appropriately.  Not only will this make your training and practice more realistic, it will also help you to improve your response to a stimulus that matters, a lethal threat.  If you can shorten the amount of time needed to process what you see, your draw will be faster even if you make zero improvements to the mechanics.
Visualization of the time to begin shooting isn’t the only application of visualization.  Knowing when to stop shooting may be equally as important.  On the range I ask my students to shoot a random number of rounds on each threat call, 2, 3, 4, or 5 shots.  They need to stop shooting when they visualize the cessation of the threat.  When your attacker piles up on the ground and becomes unresponsive you need to stop shooting.  When the thug turns around and sprints into the dark alley away from you and those you love, you need to stop shooting.  When your advisory drops the weapon, holds their open palms out to you and begs for mercy, you need to stop shooting. Visualization can help you to mentally and physically rehearse for these types of scenarios so that you respond the way you need to in a violent encounter.  The visualization is simple and can help you to avoid serious legal repercussions that can result from an error in judgement (so can a MAG-20 course from Massad Ayoob).
Again, the images in your head can be an important way to help you to develop solid defensive shooting skills and habits.

Final Thoughts

Visualization has been a key tool for those interested in increasing their performance for years.  It can come in handy in any type of situation where you can’t actually be doing the real thing.  This makes its application to defensive shooting a no brainer.  Visualization can help to vary your training routine beyond what a wide selection of photo realistic targets can. The only limit is your imagination.
Visualization can help you improve your physical skills, but more importantly it can help you to habituate the connection between the stimulus of the attack and the appropriate response. The next time you head out to the range make sure your mechanics are solid, but at the same time, visualize to make your practice more beneficial.
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