A Question of Composure

An excerpt from the Shepherd Development Community:

“In combat sports and martial arts, drilling is vital to developing skills and transitions and we talk a lot about drilling in here. The next step from drilling is sparring.  Sparring develops maybe the most important intangible in fighting: composure.  It also develops transitions between phases, distance/timing, feints, rolling with strikes and recovery from fatigue and damage.

Is there a tactical shooting equivalent to sparring?  Would that be simunition or kill house, or are there other activities that can help train composure and intangibles?”

Obviously, composure is a big part of firearms drilling.  Anyone who has gone from doing drills alone to even having one person watching has to have realized their performance is predicated on composure.  Haha or maybe that’s just me.  When I first started dry fire drills, I was making some progress … and then my wife came in and watched me.  Lmao – even THAT tiny bit of additional stress led to flubs and bad times.  

Now I try to get people to watch me whenever I can.  My shooting buddy and me take turns trying to make each other a little nervous.  It really works.  I’m pretty much inoculated to that level of stress now.

What’s a good next step?  


“Yes, I would say that force-on-force is as close as it gets, especially when it’s with gloves/fist-suits so you can meld shooting and combatives together. That certainly will throw you into moments that aren’t typically experienced on a “flat range” and like you said that stress of having situations/problems come up that you’ve never experienced is important for developing composure. If you haven’t tried out USPSA, IDPA, 3-Gun, IPSC or any other competitive shooting discipline yet, those are great ways to experience high levels of stress and ensure your shooting skills can be maintained during that high stress.

Outside of force-on-force and competition, if you mix high intensity physical training with no-fail shooting you will simulate a portion of that stress. I’ll plug the Trials challenge because that certainly trains composure more-so than any other shooting drill or challenge I have completed. After 20 burpees, aiming into a very small target really makes your brain panic. Not so much because the shot is difficult, but because the consequences of missing the shot is another 20 burpees until you get it right. That consequence, just like getting smacked in force-on-force, gives you a chance to truly focus and learn what that means. It’s only that shot that matters, and if we break it down further, it’s only that millisecond of trigger break that matters on that one shot. The burpees don’t matter, the camera doesn’t matter, the people watching don’t matter. That millisecond of focus does. Once it’s done, your brain can take a second and hover back to the tasks that should be automated and not require 100% focus. Things like moving, reloading, getting the gun up on target. Then when required, we need to be able to flip back and zone in on another millisecond. The more tasks we have grown to that subconscious level the more we can focus on other the things that need it. 

When you’re showing something to your wife, it’s likely something new or impressive. I’ve done this same thing multiple times… I’ll acquire a new speed on a technique and nail it a few times in a row and then start boasting… “Hey! Check this out! I can do a 1 second reload!” … And then I proceed to botch 3 attempts in a row. “Okay, okay, this is the one.” … Another failure. And usually after about 10 tries I’ll hit it. 

Two things I’ve learned from this:

1. My fastest speed is never ready for any stress. But by developing a new fastest speed, the slower 90% speed can be delivered under some stress, and the 80% speed can be delivered under significant stress. 

2. When you’re feeling extra pressure to perform, find a way to trick your expectations. “I might not make the first one here, but I know it’s possible, and if I do – that’s gonna be awesome.” That way you’ve given your brain some slack and relieved some performance anxiety, but also still maintained that positive thinking of hitting the goal. This doesn’t mean you’re not giving it 100%, but you’ve made a deal with yourself that the pressure isn’t going to build even further if you miss your goal. 

Like you said, that level of stress that you have inoculated yourself to with your buddy is likely because both of you have seen eachother fail. That takes a considerable amount of pressure off. Normally when we are demonstrating something to our wives, it gets easier after we have failed and the pressure is off. You could also do this in the reverse and start with no pressure. If I were to demonstrate a technique at a less stressful 80% and nail it 5 times in a row, then 90% and nail it 5 times in a row … I could then pre-face the next demonstration by saying, “I’m going to give this a shot at 100%. It might not go as well as 90%, but this is my best effort.”  

We gotta remember too, the professionals aren’t normally running at their 100% and setting new records on draw speed, reloads, or transitions during their matches or in a real life operation. It happens, but it isn’t the norm. The norm is running at that razor edge of risk versus reward in terms of physical/mental stress versus performance, which seems to be around that 90%. 

Hopefully that helps a bit man.”

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