Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Deliberate Practice Makes Perfect--Part 2: Practice Physiology

In part 1 of this series I discussed the principals of deliberate practice. In this article, I discuss practice physiology and how it affects our skills.

When we learn a new skill, we are changing how our brain is wired on a deep level—deliberate practice literally rewires our brains. Neuroscience uses the term plasticity to describe the brain’s ability to form new connections between brain cells (neurons) and to reorganize itself throughout our lives. There are three main drivers of this process:

-- Young immature brains at the beginning of life that are initially organizing

-- Brains that have received injury and are compensating for lost function

-- Brains that are exposed to new experiences or are learning something new

Scientists once believed that as we aged, the connections in the brain became fixed; however, modern research has shown that the brain never stops forming and developing through the process of learning. While younger brains can learn some things more easily than adults (e.g. a new language), all of us, regardless of age can transform our neuro circuitry through learning new skills. [1]

Does this really work and is it applicable to the shooting sports and self-defense? Yes. To perform any kind of task we activate various portions of our brain. To draw and fire a pistol accurately, our brains must coordinate a complex set of actions involving both our fine and gross motor functions, visual and spatial processing, and more. When we initially begin learning a new task, the action is often slow, awkward, or clumsy; however, as we repeat the process it gets smoother and feels more natural and comfortable.

Practice makes permanent, regardless of whether we are performing an action correctly or incorrectly. This is why the principals of deliberate practice I mentioned in part one of this series are so important. What our practice is actually doing is helping the brain optimize for a set of specific coordinated activities through a process called myelination. Our neural networks -- groups of neurons that fire together along electrochemical pathways -- shape themselves according to the activity and the manner in which we performing the activity.

When we stop practicing a movement or activity our brain will eventually reduce or perhaps even eliminate the connecting cells that formed these pathways. That’s why the swift, accurate execution of the fundamental shooting skills is perishable.

How Does This Work?

Some basic neuroscience: neurons are the brain’s cellular building blocks. A neuron is made up of dendrites, which receive signals from other neurons, the cell body which processes those signals, and the axon, a long neuro cable that connects and interacts with other neuron’s dendrites. When different parts of the brain communicate and coordinate, the brain sends electrical impulses that travel down axons to the next neuron in the chain. This process repeats from neuron to neuron, until the nerve impulses or signals reach their destination. These firings happen incredibly fast, which is why you are able to duck a ball thrown at your face without conscious thought.

Myelin’s Role

Perhaps you have heard the term “grey matter” when someone referred to the brain. From the outside, the neuron cell bodies do look somewhat grey. However, there is also a lot of myelin or “white matter” in our brains. Myelin is a fatty tissue that fills nearly 50% of our brains and covers much of the long axons that extend out of our neurons. The most important purpose of the myelin sheath is to strengthen and speed up the electrical signal propagating through a nerve cell. Without myelin we could not function (as we can see in neurological disorders that damage myelin). The myelin sheath effectively insulates the electrical impulse and prevents it from leaking out of the axon. Myelination is the process of how our bodies thicken the myelin sheath through activity and learning. [2]

Practice Increases Neural Activity Which Causes Myelin Growth

How does our body thicken the myelin sheath on our nerve axons? A lot of myelination happens naturally, much of it during childhood. As we get older, we can still generate more myelin onto our axons; however, this happens at a slower rate. Scientists believe that two non-neuron cells in the brain, play a role in creating new myelin. These cells monitor neuron axons for activity and when we generate numerous repeat signals from a particular axon this triggers the release chemicals that stimulate myelin production which thickens the myelin sheath along that particular axon. [3]

So as we practice, we trigger a pattern of electrical signals through our neurons. Over time that triggers the body to myelinate those axons, thereby increasing the speed and strength of the signal.

How do we know myelin improves performance? A key factor demonstrating myelin’s importance in enhancing our ability to perform an activity is what happens when myelin is missing. Demyelination is a known factor in several neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. multiple sclerosis) which produce symptoms such as loss of dexterity, blurry vision, balance, and general weakness and fatigue.

Practice Makes Myelin, So Practice Deliberately

Understanding myelin’s role means not only understanding why the quantity of practice is important to improving a skill (repetition causes the same nerve impulses to fire over and over and thereby increase the myelin thickness on those axons) but also how practice quality is important. Conducting practice without identifying and correcting errors will cause our bodies to myelinate those axons and increase the speed and strength of the error signals – we are actually improving our ability to perform the error. This obviously is not desirable.

Deliberate practice with a focus on quality is critical for improvement. Deliberately and correctly practicing skills over time causes those neural pathways to work better in unison via myelination. To improve your performance, you need to practice FREQUENTLY, and get lots of feedback so you practice CORRECTLY and enhance the right things.[4]

So how do we ensure out practice is achieving our goals? There are several ways we can do this.

1. Break it up – Examine each task and break it up into discrete steps for deliberate practice. For example, instructors often teach how to correctly draw a pistol as a series of steps. As we look at these steps, it is clear that each step of a standard draw consists of a series of specific actions as follows:

-- Initial hand movement consists of simultaneously moving both hands to their initial draw positions. For right handed: the right hand goes to the pistol and establishes a correct firing grip. The left hand may move to the body center line and prepare to receive the pistol to establish the two hand grip.

-- The draw movement begins as the right hand removes the pistol from the holster and rotates the elbow down and orients the muzzle toward the target. The shooter then raises the pistol into position for the left hand to establish its grip and prepare for extension to fire. The trigger finger may be on the trigger or it may wait until the next step.

-- The extension to fire begins and the two hand grip is rotated into place and established. As the shooter extends the pistol, the trigger finger contacts the trigger and takes up any slack (the preparation or prep phase) assuming that the shooter has made the decision to fire immediately.

-- As the shooter completes the extension to fire, she obtains a proper sight alignment and sight picture. The trigger finger increases pressure on the trigger while the shooter simultaneously maintains the correct structure, sight alignment/picture, and the pistol fires.

Regardless of whether the shooter intends to fire additional rounds or return the pistol to the holster, an entirely new task and new sequence of steps begins.

2. Start slowly and then speed up – Start slowly and deliberately practice each of these discrete steps and specific actions separately. Learn what doing it correctly feels like as you identify and correct errors as they appear. And they will appear. As your skill develops, speed up until errors begin to appear once again. Identify the cause of these errors, correct them, and speed up.

3. Repeat over, and over, and over – Ensure that each movement and discrete action has the full focus of your attention. Concentrate on what you are doing without dividing your attention between your practice and distractions (e.g. the TV if you are dry practicing). This is not the mindless repetition I mentioned in part 1, but rather deliberate practice.

4. Push – You must push yourself outside your comfort zone. If you can consistently draw and hit an 8-inch steel plate at 7 yards in 1.5 seconds, go faster and strive for 1.4 seconds. Learn what it feels like to move your hands faster and extend to fire faster. You will miss the target occasionally. Is it because you are extending so fast you get a bounce with full extension which is corrupting your alignment as you press the trigger? Is there another portion of the movement that you can speed up while extending to fire just a tad slower? What changes can you make to correct your errors? Explore what each movement feels like and experiment with adjusting the speed and timing. You will reach a point where you can consistently do it in 1.4 seconds. Then speed up again and repeat the process.

In the third article of this series I will provide some drills and further insight into how you can improve your shooting performance.

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[1] “Studies of adult brain plasticity have shown that substantial improvement in function and/or recovery from losses in sensation, cognition, memory, motor control, and affect should be possible, using appropriately designed behavioral training paradigms.” Brain plasticity and functional losses in the aged: scientific bases for a novel intervention

[2] “Myelin is a unique way to increase conduction speeds along axons of relatively small caliber … Myelinated nerves, regardless of their source, have in common a multilamellar membrane wrapping, and long myelinated segments interspersed with ‘nodal’ loci where the myelin terminates and the nerve impulse propagates along the axon by ‘saltatory’ conduction.” Rapid conduction and the evolution of giant axons and myelinated fibers.

[3] “These findings show that LIF is released by astrocytes in response to ATP liberated from axons firing action potentials, and LIF promotes myelination by mature oligodendrocytes” Astrocytes Promote Myelination in Response to Electrical Impulses

[4] “Long-term training within critical developmental periods may thus induce regionally specific plasticity in myelinating tracts.” Extensive piano practicing has regionally specific effects on white matter development

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

New SIG P320 EDC

Shortly after the SIG P320 X5 came out, I had the opportunity to try one.  It was OK, but didn’t seem like something to flip over.  Then a friend of mine bought one and I had the opportunity to shoot it a bit more—the more I shot it, the more I liked it.  My friend decided that for him it was an interesting (if expensive) experiment; however, he really didn’t need it and offered it to me.

So . . . I bought it. 

I took it to the range where my friend and I shot the old IPDA classifier several times with good results.  Trying out the new (to me) X5, I shot back-to-back SSP Master runs with an 89.49 and 90.53 respectively. My friend Steve shot a 97.64 with his revolver which is the fastest either of us has ever shot this course of fire with a revolver so congrats to Steve.

I’ve been interested in putting together two identical carry pistols for some time. Identical in every respect with the same RMR, trigger pull, same everything.  There are several reasons for this, key among this is that I want to have a backup pistol in case the primary goes down and to be able to rotate them through matches and training sessions to spread the wear and tear on the pistols.

I tried this with two M&P C.O.R.E.s but we just couldn’t get there.  Everything is the same on the M&Ps except the trigger pull which is different enough that I notice it. As I switch between pistols there is a readjustment period as I accustom myself to the different trigger pull. 

The SIG P320 platform seems to offer the possibility of identical trigger pulls so I’m going to try this with two P320 Carry pistols.  I’m having Gray Guns do their new P320 Self Defense Enhancement Package carry/duty trigger upgrade. 

I had Suarez International do the machining for the Trijicon RMR cuts and their work was superb as always. 

Why am I moving away from the M&P? I still believe that the M&P is perfectly satisfactory for almost all every day carry purposes.  However, as I continue to improve as a shooter I have noticed that I am beginning to exceed the (or at least my) M&P’s accuracy at longer distances.  Fifty yards shooting an 8-inch steel plate? No problem. 

However, as I move out to 75 yards, shots with the M&P, shots that I am certain were spot on miss by a slight margin. When I shoot paper, at fifty yards the M&P stays within the 8-inch zero down circle of a standard IDPA target while at 75 yards it has opened up to 10'ish inches.

My experience with the P320 indicates that it is a more accurate.The best group to date was a six shot, 3-1/4 inch group at 50 yards.*

Why should you care about hitting at longer distances? As the world becomes more dangerous, it is certainly possible that you could find yourself facing a mass killer armed with a rifle and wearing a protective vest.  Distances of fifty yards or greater are not that unusual in shopping malls and other large buildings. 

This project is obviously not a trivial undertaking; however, with all factors taken into account I believe the P320 will be a better platform for my purposes.  I will update this post as the project progresses.

* The NRA 50-yard Standard Slow Fire pistol target’s bullseye is 8 inches in diameter and the X-ring is 1.695 inches in diameter.  To put this in perspective, when I was on the Army Ft. Meade pistol team we had shooters who could hold the X-ring at fifty yards standing, with one hand, iron sights.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Deliberate Practice Makes Perfect

There is an old joke about the tourist visiting New York who asks a musician how to get to Carnegie Hall, the musician replied: "Practice, practice, and practice!"

Are you practicing enough? Are you practicing correctly? The answers to these questions often govern our development as shooters.

Dr. K. Anders Ericsson is a leading authority on how humans achieve expert-level performance in a given activity. Dr. Ericsson’s research is the basis of Malcolm Gladwell’s popularization of the so-called "10,000-hour rule" which suggests that it requires at least ten years and/or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level of performance.1

You would have to practice almost 3 hours per day, every day, for 10 years to log 10,000 hours of practice. These are big numbers. So big in fact, that you can easily miss the most important factor in the equation--deliberate practice.

In Dr. Ericsson’s research he considers three circumstances in which we perform an activity: work, play, and practice. Work is associated with pursuing an activity for external reward (e.g. salary, recognition, etc.). Play is activity without an explicit goal and is pursued for the inherent enjoyment of the activity itself. Practice is an activity specifically designed/intended to improve performance.

For example, within the shooting sports “work” could equate to shooting a match. Beyond gaining experience at reading and planning how to shoot a stage (granted, an important match skill), participating in a match offers very little opportunity to improve actual shooting ability. Play can be equated to recreational target shooting, plinking, etc. Shooting that is enjoyable; however, it has no specific purpose or goal other than enjoying the activity. And finally, practice shooting sessions, dry practice, and similar activity that should encompass structured drills with specific goals designed to improve performance.

Ericsson discovered that deliberate practice is the focused activity that helps develop elite skill levels; however, this is not the kind of activity that most of us would call practice. The activity that most of us typically associate with practice is Mindless Practice. Have you ever observed an athlete, musician, or shooter engage in practice? You'll notice that the activity generally follows a pattern--we simply repeat the same thing over and over. The same tennis serve, the same passage on the violin, the same draw and shoot holes in the target routine—often while our brains are on autopilot and simply coasting through the repetitions. While this might look like practice, it is really nothing more than mindless repetition.

Unfortunately, there are several problems with practicing this way. First, it's a waste of time because very little productive learning takes place. This is why you can "practice" something for hours, days, or weeks, and still not improve very much. Even worse, you are probably digging yourself a hole because this model of practicing strengthens undesirable habits and errors as well. This model also makes it more difficult to correct performance problems later on–you are essentially adding to the amount of future practice you will need in order to eliminate the undesirable habits and errors. Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent.  Only perfect practice makes perfect.

Second, mindless practice lowers your confidence, as a part of you realizes you don't really know how to produce the results you desire. Even if you occasionally have good stages, there's a lingering sense of uncertainty about your skills.

Finally, mindless practice is overwhelmingly dull. We've all had fellow shooters tell us to go home and practice our draw or reload a certain number of times, or go to the range a shoot a particular drill. But can we actually measure our improvement in "units of practice" without knowing whether what we are doing in these units of practice is actually correct? I don’t think so. What measurably improves our performance are more specific results-oriented processes – such as reducing your dwell time from the moment the sight picture is acceptable for a particular target until you break the shot or ensuring that you obtain a correct firing grip every time you draw the pistol from the holster.

“Our review has also shown that the maximal level of performance for individuals in a given domain is not attained automatically as function of extended experience, but the level of performance can be increased even by highly experienced individuals as a result of deliberate efforts to improve.” 2

Deliberate Practice

Where should you place your thumbs on the pistol as you solidify your grip during the draw stroke? How do you reduce excessive dwell time and break the shot as you come to full extension? Where and how should you stop as you move into a new firing position? We discover the answers to these questions through the process of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is often slow and involves careful, correct repetition of small and very specific elements of a skill instead of just pushing through.

Deliberate, or mindful practice is a systematic and highly structured activity that consists of an active and thoughtful process of hypothesis testing where we constantly seek solutions to clearly defined problems.

One analysis model for identifying and problem solving in the deliberate practice context is a follows:

-- Define the problem. For example, the defined problem could be “I am not obtaining the correct, perfect grip on the pistol in the holster every time I prepare to draw.”

-- Analyze the problem. What is causing me to be inconsistent in my grip as I draw? You might discover that the holster you are using is canted in such a way that it is difficult to replicate a perfect grip every time--or that your holster position does not allow you to grasp the pistol with all three fingers in the correct firing grip. Can you adjust the holster to correct these problems or should you look for another holster design?

-- Identify potential solutions. Look at every possible way in which you could place your hand on your pistol, in your holster, where you carry it, that allows you to obtain a perfect grip on the pistol. Through this process, you will discover exactly how a correct grip feels and the most efficient way to achieve that grip.

-- Test the potential solutions and select the most effective one. Should you change the way you grip the pistol? Is a concealment garment causing the issue?

-- Implement the best solution and reinforce the changes through dry practice and live fire.

-- Monitor the implementation of your changes during practice and matches. Am I producing the results I'm looking for?

I have personally discovered that monitoring the implementation of your changes is critically important. Previously acquired bad habits are always waiting off to the side ready to step back in and negate your hard work. It is very easy to lose concentration and allow these habits to return.

The deliberate practice model would suggest that you examine every discrete action that you perform when drawing the pistol to discover the optimum combination to enable you to perform a perfect draw every time. Then you move on to extension to fire, reloading, transitions, etc. once again examining every discrete action you perform to complete each task. Obviously not a trivial undertaking if you are serious about improving your performance which might explain why few take the time to practice this way. To stop, analyze what went wrong, why it happened, and how you can produce different results the next time is an involved process.

In the absence of adequate feedback, efficient learning is impossible and improvement only minimal even for highly motivated subjects. Hence mere repetition of an activity will not automatically lead to improvement in
performance. 3

Decades of research into human performance indicate that obtaining information to identify error is critical to learning and improving motor skills. Feedback information regarding performance errors is critical to learning and improving your skills and the process of observing and obtaining feedback on your performance is a key component of deliberate practice. We incorporate feedback into our deliberate practice through monitoring our performance – observing our performance in real-time and via video recordings - continually looking for new ways to improve. This means being keenly aware of exactly what you are doing so that you can determine precisely what went right or wrong.

For instance: “As I transitioned from target one to target two I overshot the down zero, I recognized this just before I broke the shot so I could have taken one instant to correct the sight picture and hit a down zero instead of a down three.” You then examine how you move your eyes to the next target, how rapidly or forcefully you use your lower body to swing the pistol as you transition, how you prep the trigger, and when to break the shot as you attain an acceptable sight picture.

Video helps immensely as you assess the quality of your practice and performance because you can review what you are actually doing as many times as you need to in order to identify any performance errors or issues. A friend of mine was working on speeding up his revolver reload. As I watched him do the reload, I noticed that once he released the cartridges into the cylinder, he was lifting his hand off to his right side and tossing the speed loader away before he closed the cylinder and recovered his grip. He was not aware that he was doing this. Analysis of a video of the process showed that this tossing movement was costing him .25 - .35 seconds per reload. Easily several seconds or more per match—time he could save by simply releasing the speed loader and letting it fall away as he closed the cylinder. When he saw the video, he realized this extra motion was costing him time—he could now focus on how to correct his reload to eliminate the extra movement.

I routinely video students as they perform shooting tasks. Just as routinely, the students are astonished at some of the things they do subconsciously. The analysis of these videos does take time; however, I have found that it is a great tool for helping students improve their performance. If this sounds like a lot of work, that's because it is; however, whether you are trying to improve your own performance or that of your students, it is worth the effort.

As simple as this may seem, it took me years to understand. To this day, it remains the most valuable and enduring lesson I learned in my 40+ years of firearms training and instruction.

How to Accelerate Shooting Skill Development

Here are the four principles of deliberate practice I share with my students.

1. Have a plan. Your practice plan is your road map to success. Identify your goals for improvement, break down each specific movement or task necessary to accomplish the goal, plan your practice session, and keep track what you discover during your practice sessions. If you have a crystal clear idea of what you want (e.g. a .60 or fewer seconds to transition between targets with a down zero), you can then be focused in your efforts to improve.

When you stumble onto a new insight, take the time to write it down. As you practice more mindfully, you'll began making so many micro-discoveries that you will need written reminders or you’ll risk forgetting them. If you wish, you can do an audio or video recording of the insights and transcribe it to your notebook or computer later. That way you don’t interrupt the flow of your practice.

2. Focus: Limit your practice sessions to a duration that allows you to stay focused. For dry practice sessions this may be as short as 10-20 minutes or as long as 45-60 minutes. For range sessions, given the time, effort, and expense involved (for most people) we should plan a variety of specific tasks to practice with appropriate breaks.

3. Practice smarter, not harder: When things aren't working, sometimes we simply have to focus more. However, practicing something that just is not working is counterproductive; there are times when we must try something different. Instead of stubbornly persisting with a strategy isn't working, we need to stop and rethink what we are doing. Take the time to brainstorm potential solutions to the problem for a day or two. Write down ideas as they occur to you and then flesh out these ideas through experimentation during dry practice. When you discover a solution that seems to work during dry practice, go to the range and test your solution during live fire.

4. Seek Mentorship: If you have skilled fellow shooters or mentors, discuss the problem with them. Your fellow shooters may have traveled the path you are now on and can help you avoid the pitfalls and mistakes they made. A master once said: “You learn to shoot in your first 100,000 rounds; in the second 100,000 rounds you correct the bad habits you learned in the first.”

Deliberate Practice Builds Confidence.

Real confidence comes from being able to consistently nail a stage and know that this isn't a coincidence but that you can do it correctly on demand. Real confidence is knowing precisely how to correct a problem or misstep because you have identified the key movement or physical factors that are necessary to correctly perform the action every time.

Time is our most valuable commodity and we will never have enough. If you're going to practice, you might as well do it right.


1 Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell; Little, Brown and Company, November 18, 2008. Throughout Outliers, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the "10,000-Hour Rule", claiming that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours. Ericsson however, has disputed Gladwell's usage stating that the 10,000 figure was an arbitrary average of several studies.

2 The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer; Psychological Review 1993, Vol. 100. No. 3, 363-406

3 Thorndike, 1931; Trowbridge and Cason, 1932; Adams, 1971; Schmidt and Lee, 2005

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Gunfight Anatomy -- The Eric Arnold Incident

On 7 September 2017, Eric Arnold opened fire on police officers after officers stopped him in connection with the murder of Arnold’s former girlfriend and her daughter. Arnold exited his pickup and began firing at officers as he advanced toward them.  His bullets struck two officers, one in his vest and another in the left leg. Police returned fire and Arnold died at the scene.  

One of the first things soldiers learn in basic training is the difference between concealment and cover.  Concealment hides you from visual observation but provides no ballistic protection.  Cover also provides concealment; however, cover provides ballistic protection; in other words, cover stops bullets. The number one rule of a gunfight is don’t get shot and as we see in this VIDEO, failing to use cover and standing in the open is a great way to get shot.

In the video, we see police officer standing behind an open door of a police SUV that is parked parallel (as was the police cruiser) to Arnold’s pickup. His lower legs and a significant portion of his upper body is exposed.  As Arnold exits the pickup, he begins walking toward this officer firing as he advances. My analysis of the video indicates that Arnold fired six shots with the 6th shot shattering the window and striking the police officer behind the SUV door in his bullet resistant vest. A bullet that passed through the SUV door or the gap between the door and the vehicle stuck another officer in the left leg. Five police officers fired 36 rounds, hitting Arnold 14 times, at least 10 bullets strike the pavement near Arnold, with the other 12 rounds unaccounted for in the video. Arnold died at the scene. 

Remember, all cover is concealment since it protects you from bullets and hides you from sight; however, concealment is not cover. A concrete wall, a telephone pole, a car’s engine block; these are all things that provide ballistic protection from pistol and many rifle rounds. Concealment however does not stop bullets. Car doors, wooden fences, hollow core doors, window glass, bushes, etc. are all things that are unlikely to stop a bullet.  All concealment does is hide you from sight.

Come out and shoot with us on the 2nd Sunday each month at Cedar Ridge Range in San Antonio.

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Gunfight Anatomy -- The Nicolas Sanchez Incident

Sanchez Inadvertently Exposing His Pistol
On February 21, two Roy City police officers responded to a trespassing call at a gas station. A store clerk and a witness inside the store reported that Nicolas Sanchez was acting suspiciously with his car’s engine still running in the parking lot.

The first officer on the scene walked to the convenience store and stood near a curb outside while Sanchez stood several feet away near the business’ open doorway. The second officer to respond exited his vehicle and approached Sanchez and the first officer.

The officers asked Sanchez to come to where they were standing and speak with them. Sanchez asked the officers what he had done and why they wished to speak with him. Moments later, Sanchez moved away from the doorway and put his right hand in his pocket. When the second police officer asked Sanchez to remove his hand from his pocket, Sanchez quickly lifted his sweatshirt revealing that he had a pistol. Sanchez then backed away, turned, and ran away from the officers. (Sanchez probably did not intend to reveal the pistol, but rather to convince the officers that he had no weapon. Revealing the pistol was probably inadvertent; however, the second officer was very observant. The total time that Sanchez’s pistol was visible was less than ½ a second.)

As Sanchez begins to move away from the first officer, he chases Sanchez and grabs him by the back of his hoodie and appears to punch him. The two men fall to the ground. At the same time, the second officer yells, “Let me see your hands, let me see your hands” and then fires his pistol once. There is a brief pause before 15 more shots are heard.

In a written statement provided at a press conference, Roy City Attorney Heather White said the first officer was trying to get Sanchez’s gun away from him during their struggle and at one point, the officer saw Sanchez’s pistol pointing at his face.

The first officer and Sanchez were on the wrestling on ground for about three seconds before he disarmed Sanchez; however, at that moment he heard shots being fired and didn’t know if Sanchez had another weapon (the statement said “shots” however, the video indicates that the second officer fired only one shot).

The first officer then opened fire on Sanchez with the pistol he had taken from him, firing 13 rounds in approximately 2.22 seconds as he backpedaled away from Sanchez. The first officer then fired an additional two shots in .41 and .51 seconds respectively. The entire incident lasted just over a minute.

Attorney White’s statement says Sanchez’s criminal history included assault, battery, robbery, drug possession, possession of stolen property, gang activity, weapons violations, parole violations, unlawful discharge of a weapon at a person from a car, attempted murder and more—it is unclear whether all of these charges resulted in convictions. However, Sanchez admitted that he was a convicted felon, illegally in possession of a firearm in August 2010 after police found guns at his Clearfield, Utah home and in a storage unit on a 3rd party’s business property. Sanchez was sentenced to five years in federal prison and three years of probation.

After Sanchez served his prison time for the Utah gun conviction, a probation officer recommended he be released from supervision two years early. A judge granted the request Jan. 27, 2017. Less than one month later, Sanchez is once again illegally in possession of a concealed pistol and trespassing at a gas station. This time Sanchez’s criminal behavior resulted in his death. See the video of the incident below.

See the full video at:


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Friday, August 18, 2017

Gunfight Anatomy: The Officer Quincy Smith Shooting

“Take your hands out of your pocket!” or some variation of
Malcolm Orr
this phrase remains one of the most frequently repeated commands in law enforcement. Although police officers have been yelling it for years, as we saw in the Scotty Richardson incident and as we see here it is often not the best approach.

One of the first things police officers learn is that a suspect's "hands" pose the greatest threat—indeed they do. When dealing with a suspect, an officer should be acutely aware of the ability, or inability, to see the person's hands to ensure he is not clutching or reaching for a weapon. This is a proper concern and when officers encounter someone with their hands in their pockets the officers should immediately assume an elevated level of awareness.

Such was the case with Malcolm Antwan Orr, 29, on 1 January 2016 in Estill, South Carolina.

Estill, South Carolina police Officer Quincy Smith responded to a suspicious person call at the Charles Party Shop. A clerk told Smith that a man wearing camouflage and a red bandana tried snatching groceries from customers. Smith spotted a man matching that description walking away from the store along Railroad Avenue. Smith drove his patrol car a short distance toward the man, who police later identified as Orr.

Smith parked his patrol car and ordered Orr to stop. Orr refused and continued to walk away from Smith, while holding a cellphone to his ear and keeping his right hand in his jacket pocket. Smith told him to take his hand out of his pocket or Smith would use his Taser. At that point, Orr removed a 9mm handgun from his right pocket and began firing at Officer Smith without taking the phone away from his ear.

Officer Smith was threatening to fire his Taser at Orr when he likely perceived that Orr was removing a pistol from his pocket. As he saw the pistol, the video shows that Officer Smith fired his Taser; however, it is likely that one or both Taser prongs missed—in any event, the Taser had no affect on Orr.

Orr opened fire on officer Smith after Smith fired the Taser firing 3 shots in his initial burst. The first shot hit Officer Smith in the neck, another struck his left arm breaking 2 bones, and a third passed through Smith’s upper torso stopping in his back. As officer Smith rolled away to his right, Orr fired a 4th round and continued shooting 4 more rounds as Officer Smith retreated to his patrol car. Orr fired at least two of the eight rounds as Smith was lying on the ground.

The video of this incident demonstrates the danger in telling a suspect to remove his hands from his pocket in an uncontrolled manner. The suspect’s hand movement is not going to be an indicator of trouble—Officer Smith initiated the movement when he commanded Orr to take his hand out of his pocket. The first opportunity for Smith to see that Orr had a firearm was when it was too late.

The video shows that Officer Smith fired his Taser at Orr 1.267 seconds after the first instant that he could have seen the pistol. Orr opened fire at officer Smith .667 seconds after Smith fired the Taser or 1.934 seconds after he removed the pistol from his pocket. Orr fired his second shot in 0.567 after his first and his third shot 0.367 later. Orr fired his first 3 shots within .933 seconds—very likely much faster that Officer Smith could have drawn his service pistol even if he had not had to drop the Taser and had not been shot. As officer Smith rolled away to his right, Orr fired a 4th round at the 2.733 second mark and continued shooting 4 more rounds as Officer Smith retreated to his patrol car.

Officer Smith stated: “I didn’t draw my firearm because at the time I didn’t think it was warranted, he was just walking away. But unfortunately, I made a mistake and I drew my Taser and he got the upper hand on me.” Officer Smith’s approach was understandable and in many circumstances, would have been the best approach. However, any encounter can turn deadly in an instant as we see here.

Orr continued to walk away ignoring Officer Smith’s commands to stop. I am not a South Carolina legal scholar and offer no legal advice; however, did Orr’s refusal to stop provide justification for Officer Smith to use non-lethal force to gain compliance? If so, Smith’s use of his Taser earlier in the encounter may have prevented Orr’s subsequent deadly assault.

Additionally, Officer Smith was close enough to Orr to deflect his pistol and then attempt a disarm or use his Taser directly on Orr. Clearly, this requires specific training and situational awareness that Officer Smith may not have possessed.

During the course of a career, a police officer will interact with a countless number of individuals who have their hands in their pockets. On the street, simply commanding the individual to remove his hands makes it almost impossible to tell whether he is drawing a weapon or complying with your command until it is too late to react. Controlling the manner in which they remove their hands will give you an advantage and position you to react if they do present a weapon.

Finally, there are several full versions of this video available that contain Officer Smith’s efforts to summon aid and the efforts of bystanders who try to help. Aid was surprisingly slow to arrive and the bystanders stated several times that they did not know how to help. If Officer Smith had a trauma kit in his patrol car or on his person he never mentioned it. At the minimum, carry a QuikClot® Combat Gauze®, a combat tourniquet, and a 4" Israeli Emergency Bandage on your equipment belt and a more complete kit in the patrol car.

The video of the incident is available HERE 

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Gunfight Analysis: The Miami Grow House Incident

Click Here for the Gunfight Video Analysis
Click Here for the Gunfight Video Analysis
** Warning: Graphic Pictures and Video. For Education Purposes Only**

Research has shown that the only shot that will instantly stop a fight is one that destroys the brain or severs the spinal cord thereby disabling the central nervous system. Shots that do not strike the central nervous system must rely on a critical level of blood loss to cause unconsciousness. Often someone who has received a fatal wound (or wounds) that reduces blood circulation will still be capable of purposeful activity for ten seconds or longer because the brain can remain sufficiently oxygenated. In other words, even if you inflict a fatal wound, your assailant may have a significant period of time in which they can still injure or kill you. There are many documented instances where someone continued fighting for much more than ten seconds after taking a serious wound to the heart or multiple wounds. 

In a gunfight involving Gerardo Delgado (the apparent operator of a marijuana grow house in Miami, FL) and police, Delgado opens fire on police as he emerges from a vehicle in the driveway of the grow house. The video shows several Miami Police Officers and an FBI Special Agent approaching Delgado’s grow house to conduct a “Knock and Talk.” You’ll notice that the first 2 officers pass Delgado who is seated in the car without even a glance; FBI Agent Raul Perdomo positions himself in the front of the house also without taking apparent notice of Delgado in the car. Delgado initiates the gunfight when he steps out of the car and points his pistol at Agent Perdomo to his immediate front—this is the first warning the officers have of his presence. 

Agent Perdomo initially sees that Delgado is armed and (based upon court testimony) yells for Delgado (who is pointing his pistol at him) to “put the gun down.” Agent Perdomo draws his pistol approximately 2 seconds after he sees Delgado and fires as he side steps to his left. From the video angle, it appears that his shot hit the tree.  Agent Perdomo then begins side stepping to his right as he continues to fire. 

Agent Perdomo’s shout alerted Detective John Saavedra who draws his pistol and opens fire on Delgado (approximately 2 seconds after Delgado exits the car). Detective Saavedra fires 5 shots in approximately 2.57 seconds and makes at least two probably fatal hits on Delgado from a distance of approximately 5 yards. Saavedra’s second shot likely hits Delgado center chest and exits his back without severing the spinal cord (see picture #1). 
Detective Saavedra's 2nd Shot
Delgado’s pistol was still pointed toward Perdomo as Saavedra opened fire; however, the video shows Delgado was transitioning his aim to Saavedra. As Delgado winces from the center chest hit he twists to his left. At that moment (four seconds into the gunfight), Saavedra fires a fourth round which enters and travels laterally through Delgado’s upper right side and exits his left side (see picture #2). 

Detective Saavedra's 4th Shot

This lateral wound subsequently exhibits a great deal of blood loss in a short period of time (see picture 3 which shows evidence of both exit wounds). Delgado physically reacts to the impact of both shots by hunching or wincing.

Delgado Experiencing Blood Loss
Approximately one second after taking two probably fatal hits, Delgado opens fire on Saavedra (for approximately 2 seconds). This is the first moment that Saavedra begins to move.  As he moves in a straight line away from Delgado, Delgado fires at least 3 rounds (difficult to tell in the video due to shadow) and hits Saavedra three times, one enters a gap in his vest as Saavedra turns away to his left, others hit him in the groin and thigh. Saavedra continues to fire as well although these shots are not aimed fire shooting what appears to be a total of 7 rounds. One (possibly both) of these shots likely pass close to Agent Perdomo as he moves away. 

Agent Perdomo reacts to these shots and takes aim at Saavedra; however, realizing it is Detective Saavedra he shifts his aim and continues to fire at Delgado who is essentially hidden behind the tree from 6-7 yards away.  Agent Perdomo then takes cover behind the red pickup in which Miami-Dade Detective Jorge Milan had just arrived as the gunfight started. Detective Milan has exited the pickup and taken cover behind it approximately 20 yards from Delgado’s position.

Delgado remains on his feet after firing at Saavedra and continues purposeful activity for an additional 14 seconds until Detective Milan fires a shot through a narrow “V” notch in the tree branches striking Delgado in the head and inflicting the stopping wound. Shortly before the head shot, you can clearly see that Delgado appears to be slowing down as a result of blood loss.1

Detective Milan Fires the Gunfight's Final Round

Dr. Ken Newgard, M.D2 stated that instantaneous neutralization is impossible with non-central nervous system wounds; that a gunshot wound to the thoracic aorta (such as that Delgado may have suffered) would cause blood loss and relatively fast incapacitation. However, Dr. Newgard’s analysis of case studies showed that even if the thoracic aorta were totally severed, it would likely take at least 4-6 seconds to suffer sufficient blood loss to cause unconsciousness. Vasoconstriction resulting from adrenalin dump, amphetamines, antihistamines, cocaine, or other drugs can mitigate this wounding effect and the assailant may remain capable of purposeful action for a much longer period. Delgado in this incident fired at least 3 shots after he had suffered two probably fatal circulatory and respiratory wounds. 

The man who takes the initiative gets to start the fight—all he requires is decisiveness, marksmanship, and the will to kill. Delgado had the initiative in this fight and his attack as well as the physical environment dictated the officer’s tactics. Saavedra faced a reactive event where the bad guy was already preparing to shoot him. Although he successfully drew and fired before Delgado began firing at him, Saavedra’s shots were not immediately effective--unfortunately no pistol round is guaranteed to be immediately effective.

Studies and countless OIS videos have shown that the initial reaction of many officers who are facing a lethal threat is to stand flat-footed, draw, and try to return fire—this is how most departments train their officers—stand and deliver. Square range training often conditions officers to respond to lethal threats presented at close range in this manner. However, to effectively respond using stand and deliver to beat your assailant, you will have to be at least twice as fast as the bad guy and hit the central nervous system—a daunting task.

Saavedra ’s options for direction of movement are all poor, particularly as Agent Perdomo’s shots are impacting on the tree and ground near Delgado. If Saavedra had moved laterally to his left he would have moved directly into Agent Perdomo’s line of fire.  Sometimes there are simply no good choices. Saavedra’s only viable option would have been to aim for a central nervous system shot when Delgado did not go down immediately with his first shots.

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1 The video frame rate or frames per second (fps) of available copies of the incident videos (30 fps) is clearly not the frame rate of the original recording (which was likely either 5 or 7.5 FPS) and the resolution of the various cameras is different. Unfortunately, as a result the, precise timing is problematic; however, the times are very close since there are time stamps on the videos. 

2 Newgard, Ken, M.D.: "The Physiological Effects of Handgun Bullets: The Mechanisms of Wounding and Incapacitation." Wound Ballistics Review, 1(3): 12-17; 1992.

3 Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of the blood vessels resulting from contraction of the muscular wall of the vessels, in particular the large arteries and small arterioles.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Gunfight Analysis: The Murder of Officer Scotty Richardson

Stephon Carter
“Let me see your hands!” or some variation of this phrase is one of the most frequently repeated commands in law enforcement. Although police officers have been yelling it for years, it may not always be the best approach.

One of the first things police officers learn is that a suspect's "hands" pose the greatest threat—indeed they do. When dealing with a suspect, an officer should be acutely aware of the ability, or inability, to see the person's hands to ensure he or she is not clutching or reaching for a weapon. This is a proper concern and when officers encounter someone with their hands in their pockets the officers should immediately assume an elevated level of awareness.

Such was the case with Stephon Carter, the night of December 20, 2011. 

Aiken, South Carolina Public Safety Officer Travis Griffin responded to a drive-by shooting about 9:30 p.m. and a short time later saw a black Chevrolet Impala similar to the car witnesses said was involved in the shooting. Griffin followed the vehicle and initiated a traffic stop in the parking lot of a near-by apartment complex. Four other officers arrived as backup at the scene including Officer Edward Scott (Scotty) Richardson, who parked his patrol vehicle behind Griffin. 

Griffin asked the front-seat passenger Stephon Carter to exit the vehicle and walk to the rear of the car. Initially Carter had both hands out of his pocket; however, as he came around to the rear of the Impala Carter placed his right hand in his pocket. Griffin asked Carter to remove his hand from his pocket, at which point Carter pulled out a revolver and began firing at the officers.

Carter’s first shot struck Griffin in the chest; however, his bullet resistant vest stopped the round. Carter continued to fire as he turned to his left firing a second shot which missed Griffin’s head and at least one more shot before fleeing the scene. Two of Carter’s shots fatally struck Officer Richardson—one in his left side and one in the head. 

The video of this incident demonstrates the danger in telling a suspect to remove his hands from his pocket in an uncontrolled manner. The suspect’s hand movement is not going to be an indicator of trouble—Officer Griffin initiated the movement when he requested Carter to take his hand out of his pocket. The first opportunity for Griffin to see that Carter had a firearm was when it was too late. . . when Carter fired his first shot into Griffin’s chest. 

Carter firing at Officer Griffin

From the moment Griffin could have seen Carter's revolver until he fired was 0.33 seconds. 

Video analysis shows that from the moment Griffin could have seen that Carter had a revolver in his hand until Carter fired the first shot was 0.33 seconds. Figure 1 shows the first moment that Griffin could see that Carter had something in his hand. Although you can see Griffin is looking at Carter’s hand, Griffin did not react until after Carter fired (figure 2). In truth, he could not have reacted in time—it was not humanly possible.


The Force Science Institute conducted several experiments in a 2014 study to measure police officer reaction time to start and stop shooting. In experiment one the officers were positioned in a firing stance with a training pistol and were instructed to fire the pistol when a green light came on for 0.5 sec. On average, it took officers .25 sec to begin the trigger pull (i.e. react to the stimulus) and .06 sec to complete the trigger pull (defined as the actual travel time of the trigger from a position of rest to a position back against the frame) for a total reaction time of .31 sec.1 So even if Griffin was in a firing stance, finger off the trigger, with his pistol aimed at Carter, it would have been almost impossible for Griffin to have reacted to Carter’s movement in time. 

Carter fired his second shot .57 sec later as he was spinning to his left and at least one more shot which the video did not capture. The first officer to draw and fire at Carter does so at 2.7 seconds into the incident; given the circumstances, a credible reaction time. 

Is there a more effective tactic to effectively replace the command, one which improves the officer’s position of advantage while placing the suspect at a disadvantage? I believe so. First, issue the command: “DO NOT take your hands out of your pockets.” Followed immediately with a repeat of the command “DO NOT” to emphasize that you do not want the individual to remove his hands. Many suspects with prior police encounters will automatically begin removing their hands the instant they hear “hands” and “pockets.” 

Command the individual to face away from you and to not look back. After the individual turns facing away, leave your original position and move several steps to the right (or left as the situation dictates). If the suspect was to suddenly turn with a weapon, he would do so anticipating that you would be where he last saw you. 

Command the individual to slowly take his right hand out of his pocket and hold it away from his body, spreading his fingers and turning his palm toward you. Once you see an empty right hand, quietly move again so the next time the individual hears your voice you are in a different position. Instruct the individual to slowly remove his left hand from his pocket and hold it in the same position as the right hand. You may now take additional steps to ensure the individual does not possess a weapon.

At night you can use a similar tactic; however, modern high intensity flashlights help. After you issue the command “DO NOT take your hands out of your pockets” and repeat “DO NOT,” shine your light in the individual’s eyes using the FBI technique (see figure 3) and command him to face away from you and to not look back. After the individual turns facing away, leave your light on him and move several steps to the right (or left as the situation dictates). If the suspect was to suddenly turn with a weapon, he will likely shoot where the light is located. Continue to issue commands and take additional steps to ensure the individual does not possess a weapon as discussed above.

During the course of a career, a police officer will interact with a countless number of individuals who have their hands in their pockets. On the street, simply commanding the individual to remove his hands makes it almost impossible to tell whether he is drawing a weapon or complying with your command until it is too late to react. Controlling the manner in which they remove their hands will give you an advantage and position you to react if they do present a weapon. 

The video of the incident is available at the following link: Officer Richardson's Shooting

1 Lewinski, Hudson, & Dysterheft (2014). Police Officer Reaction Time to Start and Stop Shooting: The Influence of Decision-Making and Pattern Recognition. Law Enforcement Executive Forum 14(2), 1-16

2 Although the picture shows a drawn handgun, you can do this technique with your hand on a holstered or ready pistol as well. Photo credit: Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, Level I Handgun Instructor Course, 2008