“Fall Back On Our Training” by R. Ann Parris
There’s a pretty common saying in some circles: “We don’t rise to the occasion; We fall back on our training”. It speaks to the need for practice, and for matching our training to real world situations. While it’s mostly heard in gun-toting circles, it actually applies in many realms. It’s easy to think we’ll rise to the occasion, whatever that may be, that all we need is a particular tool. In reality, muscle memory is vital.
There’s a reason professionals train and continue training for their jobs.
Whether it’s firefighters, cops, or military, a great deal of time and resources is devoted to developing muscle memory. They continue that training throughout their careers, not just in the execution of their daily jobs, but with exercises.
They have to, to build the skills to respond, and to fine-tune and maintain those skills.
The specialists of the gun-toting professions — SWAT, infantry grunts, special forces — spend even more time in training than typical cops and military. So do the firefighting elitists, on ship, the specialists in industrial fire and oil fires, on ships, parajumpers, and others.
Even once they’re at the apex of their individual fields, they not only continue to hone and advance, they revisit the bare-bones fundamentals of their jobs, whatever those may be.
We can see that focus on training and advanced training nearly anywhere we look, from farming tech and teaching, to hospitals practicing for mass casualties. We can see the focus difference in the amount of hours put into that training by hobbyist athletes vs. school athletes vs. professional athletes. That’s because…
We can lose that muscle memory.
It doesn’t even take all that long, especially if we’re handling something like a firearm, but handling a different firearm or just handling it differently.
For example, I had a phase of about a year where I only picked up a shotgun to shoot trap. And in that phase, I was shooting a lot of trap, 2+ days a week, 3-6 rounds a day. The next time I picked up a shotgun for something else, sure enough, I developed bad/other habits.
I realized that I was standing tall and square, pretty well set and stationary.
Not ready to step somewhere else, not with any mindset to lower my profile or be aware of shadow or what and how much was visible from any given angle, not with the hard-earned awareness of where my hands and reloads were or what was in the chamber and tube.
About the only thing I’d retained, was general awareness of what was around me.
But that, too, is an engrained habit. It is engrained habit for that awareness to rachet higher when firearms are involved, whether it’s at the range, my daily carry, or possible firearms around me.
From watching for what others are doing (just like driving), to the times I’ve held a gun hunting and in hostile situations, to moving that gun to keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction as things are moving around me and as things obscure vision — and thus become an un-safe direction — it’s just engrained habit now.
Again, engrained habit.
Some stuff has come back to me immediately after years and decades of not using it, but mostly, no. I’m part of the average that gets rusty.
Sometimes, one habit has been replaced by another. I am now on constant lookout for those, from daily driving to how I shoot my sports, all the way out to my expectations of my animals and things like my family being accustomed to a gas stove instead of electric or wood — which leads to forgetting that burners stay hot a long time.
Some habits, though, have been lost entirely. That, too, I am aware of and watch for now — just like I try to catch myself before strong-arm hopping a fence or trying to sling haybales and 55-gal drums around like I am still an uninjured, lean 25-35-year-old.
I am not the exception. I am the rule.
So are most readers. The exceptions are just that: exceptions, exceptional in that regard. Most of us are not exceptional. We’re largely average. Whether it’s our driving ability, ability to multitask, or even our ability to learn new skills, we have to exercise the muscles we want to develop or keep.
Firearms or hand-to-hand self-defense — bare-bones safety habits and most especially the ability to deploy them in high-stress situations — are not the exception, either.
There’s a big difference between standing at a static range or “stressed” by a competition, and responding to an actual crisis moment.
We are not fictional characters in a book/movie/TV program who are going to scoop up whatever’s there and beat the bad guys. Unless we have the training and background, we’re also not going to have the on-the-ground tactics or overreaching strategies to beat any sizable force, particularly if they are trained and-or experienced.
Mentality will only get us so far — especially untested mental mettle. If we want to save ourselves or our people, we must develop the skills to do so, whatever those skills may be, from successfully butchering and preserving game, gardening, CPR/Heimlich basics, daily defensive driving, all the way to the extremes of holding our ground against an intruder or assailant.
Just like the professional who do it daily and train anyway, we must work those muscles. We do not rise to the occasion. We fall back on our training.