The Cornered Cat
Self defense is a do it yourself project

It happens almost every class, that someone has trouble learning how to confidently manipulate her firearm. She might struggle with reloading the gun efficiently, or with clearing an unexpected malfunction. It’s not uncommon, because mechanical skills don’t come easily to everyone.

During one class this past summer, one student had a particularly hard time learning how to clear a doublefeed. Working as the instructor, I’d talked her and the other students through the process several times. When all the students seemed to understand the idea, I told them it was time for them to clear the problem on their own. Along with my range assistants, I watched carefully as most of the students locked the slide back, removed the magazine, racked the slide several times, and successfully reloaded the gun. This process could be described as, “Unload. Vigorously make sure it’s unloaded. Reload.”

Although the likelihood of needing to clear a doublefeed in a self-defense situation is very low, I still think it’s an important skillset. That’s because it so significantly improves the students’ ability to handle their firearms with safety and confidence. The improved confidence from knowing how their firearms work, and knowing how to make it keep working if something goes wrong, is worth the extra effort it takes to get everyone in class able to do this task. Like most other individual components of firearms manipulation, it’s not so much about the specific skill itself as it is about the students’ overall confidence in handling their firearms.

For this reason, I made a point of telling the assistants, “Please step back and let the students solve the problem on their own now,” even though several of the students weren’t quite sure they’d be able to do it. But they did! Good for them.

After most of the other students had cleared the trouble and taken their shots, our struggling student still hadn’t fired. She had worked on the problem until she felt stuck, then stopped and waited for someone to come help her or tell her what to do. “You can do this,” I encouraged her. “You need to solve it yourself. No one’s going to rescue you. You’re going to have to rescue yourself now.” And she did! I quite literally cheered when the student who had been having the most trouble with the task finally mastered it. Good for her! We worked the problem a few more times to be sure everyone would be able to practice the skill on their own, then moved on to other important things.[1]

Why did I make such a point of the student solving the problem for herself? This blog post from eiaft might help explain why. Although the post on that page is superficially about something else entirely, it’s really not. It’s about exactly this thing: being prepared to take care of your own self when help isn’t coming. EIAFT writes:

“From a personal defense POV, I teach the folks that come to my classes HELP IS NOT COMING!!!! YOU ARE THE ANSWER, YOU ARE YOUR ONLY DEFENDER!!! And so it is in the aftermath of Sandy. When a person looks in the mirror – they see the only person who is going to help them.”

That’s exactly right.

When you practice with your self-defense firearm, don’t get in the habit of waiting for someone else to tell you what to do and how to do it. If you have a  helpful friend, ask that person to show you how to do something, yes—but then ask them to step back and keep their mouth shut while you practice solving the problem for yourself. After all, they won’t always be there to talk you through trouble, but you will. Learn good skills and practice them until you can confidently solve the problems for yourself.


[1] In class, there’s literally no way to give students enough repetitions of a new skill for them to achieve true mastery. It takes roughly 300 to 500 repetitions of a complex motor skill to hammer it into your “muscle memory”—but it takes ten times as much work, approximately 3000 to 5000 reps, to erase a previously learned bad habit. For this reason, my primary goal in class is to show students what they need to practice and how they need to practice it. It’s up to them to get the practice they need to achieve “muscle memory” from their own starting points.

One Response to Self defense is a do it yourself project

  1. larryarnold says:

    But OH MY GOD is it hard for someone who has been teaching thirty years to let a student fumble with a gun. You’re right, though. It’s probably the most important thing for an instructor to learn. Or a parent.

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