Fear of Failure and Simple Self-Defense Skills Building

U.S.A. -(Ammoland.com)- Are we brave enough to learn about ourselves? My usual trip to the shooting range is to stand at a bench and slowly shoot at a stationary paper target a few yards away.

I don’t think we learn very much from doing that. If you walked down the firing line and asked most of us, we’d say we are practicing for self-defense. I don’t believe it. I think we stand in a line and shoot at paper precisely so we won’t feel embarrassed by our performance. Our self-image is so sensitive that we can’t suffer disappointment. In addition, we don’t know what we don’t know, so we tend to overestimate our skills and underestimate what we could learn.

Children fail all the time, but it seems we’ve lost that skill as adults. I went shooting with a friend, and the experience drove home that particular lesson.

Let’s call my friend R. The first thing R and I did was walk toward the targets we’d set up at the end of the range. R has carried his handgun for years. The targets were as ordinary as I could make them. They were blank pieces of light colored office paper stapled onto larger pieces of brown cardboard.

As we were walking, I asked R to shoot at the targets whenever he wanted to. I said, “Those targets on the left are your family. That target on the right is a bad guy who is pointing a gun at them. Walk forward until you can shoot the bad guy.”

R did, and he missed. My friend reminded me of these obvious lessons.

  • The real world doesn’t come with a flashing sign that tells us when to draw our pistol and shoot. You knew that, but we seldom exercise the decision to fire our gun. I think knowing when to shoot is an important skill.
  • The real world doesn’t have range markers on the ground that tell us how far away the target is. You have to judge distances for yourself, and you also have to judge how you’re feeling that minute. Knowing when you can hit a target..and when you can’t..is pretty important, don’t you think?
  • Perhaps the biggest takeaway was that we won’t have 20 minutes to practice before we have to protect the people we love. Yeah. It sounds obvious when I say it that way, but we remember our best shots at the range rather than our first shots. I have that bias too.

We remember our best shots at the range rather than our first shots.

R moved closer and shot again. This time he hit his target. When it was my turn, I walked up closer than R did before I fired on the piece of paper and got my hit. With each step I traded the risk that my family might be hurt while I gained confidence that I could hit my target.
You could make a good case for shooting early or late, and both sides have good arguments.

My concern isn’t that you are a great shot or a poor shot, but that you should learn what you can do.
Does that make sense to you?

My friend, R, and I kept learning. We walked forward until our feet were at the edge of the berm and there were no targets in front of us at all. The only thing we had to do was draw our handguns out of the holsters, present the guns at full extension, and fire. In contrast to the first exercise, this time we could ignore the sights and the targets.

Let me share the lessons learned without giving you the details.

  • Learn how quickly you can move and still perform flawlessly. That “answer” is particular to you.
  • Slow and perfect practice leads to perfect performance.
  • You need someone to watch you as you speed up or you will introduce errors into your technique.
  • Don’t make excuses and try to ignore your mistakes. Let your mistakes talk to you so you learn from them.
  • You are not really ready for self-defense until you can quickly and reliably present your firearm in an operating condition. If you can’t do that after repeated practice, then maybe you’re carrying the wrong gun even though you’ve carried it for years.
  • Don’t make excuses if your firearm malfunctions.

In this exercise, the observer is a better judge than the performer. Not only does an instructor he see things that I miss, but he doesn’t make excuses for me. Yes, I’m as human as the next person.

If this sounds stressful to you, then consider we were standing still and facing a mountain of dirt that wasn’t shooting back.

We went on to shoot other easy targets. We put one target a few yards in front of the other one. All we had to do was lean to the side to shoot around the near target to hit the distant one. We were not moving more than a half step.

Merely leaning to the side takes practice compared to standing upright at the firing line the way we are probably used to shooting. The exercise sounds simple, but we both became better as we practiced. The secondary lesson we learned as we shot was to use cover rather than stand in the open and be a target. I’m sure you’ve heard that before, but when was the last time you practiced it?

My friend was satisfied with what he learned. I appreciate his bravery because he was eager to find out what he could do and find out what he needed to practice. In my mind, that sets him miles ahead of many gun owners. Have you noticed that about us? Most gun owners don’t practice. Most gun owners don’t have their carry permit.

I think it is great to see anyone who wants to keep learning.

Please notice that we never used a timer or a scoring target to add to the pressure of performance. We could take all the time we thought we needed, or we could move closer to the target to get hits. The only expectations on our performance were the ones we brought with us. Unless you compete on a regular basis, that small amount of performance pressure is probably enough for a first lesson. Let’s walk before we run.

Judging by what I see at the range and at competition, most of us would rather not know how well we shoot. We want to keep our fantasy self-image unblemished.

Don’t we owe it to ourselves to find out how well we perform? Don’t we owe it to our family?

Learning how well we shoot isn’t hard to do. Step away from the square shooting range and go find out. That is what instructors are for.

I’ll share a little secret with you if you promise not to tell; self-defense teachers like to be inventive with their instruction. Individual instruction or a small group-class lets them do that.

Go live a little..and learn a lot.

Defensive Handgun Class
Victoria Hickey gets instruction from Cornered Cat instructor kathy Jackson during a GunStart women only defensive handgun class Saturday afternoon. The three day course taught students gun safety and handgun defense techniques. To see more on the class see page A10 and visit frontiersman.com for an audio slide show.


Slow Facts

About Rob Morse

The original article is here.  Rob Morse writes about gun rights at Ammoland, at Clash Daily, and on his SlowFacts blog. He hosts the Self Defense Gun Stories Podcast and co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast. Rob is an NRA pistol instructor and combat handgun competitor.

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“Most gun owners don’t have their carry permit.” ==> True, but for many of us, we can’t *get* a carry permit. For example, in large swaths of may-issue states like NY, NJ, and CA, almost *no* carry permits are issued. And open carry is flatly illegal. Granted, this clearly violates “shall not be infringed”, but that’s the current law. Yet, people living in less-restrictive (more rural) counties of the same state can easily get permits which permit them to carry anywhere, including where we live, but *we* cannot carry here. Regarding shooting while moving ==> an EXCELLENT suggestion, and I’m… Read more »


Another option: find an IDPA club that runs regular matches. You’ll get plenty of opportunities to draw from concealment, shoot on the move, and engage threat targets at various distances.


Many ranges won’t allow dynamic shooting, or even approaching the target. Most won’t allow drawing and shooting. To those that are in that fashion, limited, at least they are gaining the muscle memory of gripping and sight acquisition.

Find ASI events if you want to try out dynamic shooting and cannot travel to the OP’s classes/range.

Robert Morse

I agree with you. I’m lucky enough to have one bay that allows movement. Please notice that these exercises were not dynamic shooting. All the shots were done flat-footed. Shooting on the move comes next.