The Learning Process takes place in a couple of radically different phases.

The first comes when we have some experience that ignites the quest for learning. When the interest is deep, that flame may flicker over time but it doesn’t go out. Instead it may come and go like the phases of the moon.

For Bulleye, the spark that started me down this path happened a couple of years ago when a friend at work took me shooting. That spark manifested itself in a cowboy six shooter firing 357 magnum rounds. Boy, was that a bad choice for the beginner — I was terrible and that huge explosion made it all the worse. Nonetheless, one of my best memories is a shot fired from that gun with my adult son behind me and the huge blast of incadescent gas. I heard him exclaim, “Woah!” and it had been a long time since Dad had impressed his Son like that. It brought back some forgotten father/son memories. And I cherished the moment for that.

The second phase of learning is when we actively take in new knowledge. This may come from books, from watching others, from advice read on the Bullseye-L list or from innumerable other sources. Studying takes place.

You name it and I’ve probably got it on my book shelf, or probably it’s on loan to someone (and probably not coming back). Elmer Keith is there, so are Jerry Kuhnhausen and Robert A. Rinker. The Pistol Marksmanship Guide from the USAMU gets a re-read from time to time as does The Pistol Shooter’s Treasury from Gil Hebard. And there are a dozen other books from shooters in related disciplines who all have something instructive to add. I’ve got the Bullseye DVD from the CMP and the more recent dry-fire practice DVD from Tillman Eddy. They’re all good. They all have something to teach.

Training falls into this same phase. Whether you train with a coach who watches, suggests and corrects, or whether you train by watching yourself and, comparing your performance to others or what you’ve read, training is learning.

Every source of information, whether a book or an instructor, has a different way of teaching. I suppose there may be those who can read one book or take one session from a coach and then go and do it perfectly but that’s not me. With all the distractions in my life including family and work, house and friends, taxes and television, Bullseye has been a long climb.

For me, I need those different ways of saying many of the same things, reading, watching and coaching, so I can get it.

Call me dense. Ok, I’m dense.

Call me stubborn. Ok, I’m stubborn.

But you can also call me persistent, dogged and determined.

Because I’ve always known that just getting it isn’t enough. In Bullseye, you’ve also got to do it. And as I’m sure you all know, knowing and doing are two very different things.

Bullseye isn’t a written test where you get a written score. Bullseye is about doing, about performing when it matters.

Moving from knowing to doing is where most of us spend a lot of time and ammo.
And that transition involves an intermediate phase, the third in the learning process. This third phase has two activities, practice and consolidation. Practice what you’ve learned and consolidate it with what you are already doing.

Sometimes the consolidation is easy. The new skill just fits right in. Other times, a new skill wrecks what used to work and you have to go back and reassemble the picture with new answers.

Well, for the past several months, my progress shooting Bullseye has been difficult to see from the score card. Indeed, it looks like I’ve slid backward; my scores with the 1911s (both wad and ball, red dot and irons) have declined or only made, at best, no more than nominal improvement. And my 22 scores have not progressed to any substantial degree.

To the outsider and perhaps to those who stood at the line at yesterday’s practice 2700 in Phoenix, my performance now is perplexing. It certainly was to me. My scores were down and some of what I used to do fairly well didn’t happen. I was disappointed as my scores plummeted from CF to 45 even though I was shooting the same gun and, to no small degree, I was perplexed at my performance.

But, with a night’s sleep to put things in perspective, I think I’m right about something I’ve been suspecting about my shooting. That is, for several weeks I’ve started to feel that I don’t really understand “trigger control”. I can tell you the definition but, to borrow a word from science fiction author Robert Heinlein, I don’t “Grok” trigger control.

Suddenly, I know what it is that I don’t know: I don’t know how to control the trigger.

I have consolidated a lot of lessons and that’s good.

All of the things I’ve been reading, trying, practicing, rejecting and trying something else before ultimately accepting what works for me, and then occasionally discovering that what worked at one level of ability becomes counter-productive later and that I’ve got to sometimes go back to the basics and re-learn old teaching for new lessons, … all of that has been consolidated into a bundle I will now call “the basics.”

I know how to stand. I know my NPA. I know how to grip all my guns, and each of my guns. I know where my trigger finger needs to be on each of their triggers and where I need to feel the pressure.

All of that knowledge is consolidated. When I go to the line and get ready to shoot, it all just happens. I know what to do.

And with all of those basics nicely packaged and in place, I now discover that I really don’t know how to shoot.

Intellectually, I know how the muscles in my hand need to feel to move the trigger straight back, but I don’t know. The “I” in this is the whole creature that is me: brain, bones, muscles, fibers, nerves and fluids. The brain knows but the rest of the creature doesn’t.

The bottom line is that “I” don’t know how to move that trigger straight back without disturbing the sights.

I can hit the “X” but when I do it, it’s not through trigger control. It’s luck, it’s snatching the trigger at the right time and in the right way, but only rarely is it moving the trigger straight back without disturbing the sights.

I need to learn that.

And Bullseye isn’t about doing it just once.

I’ve raised the gun, done everything right and shot an “X” on the very first shot of several matches. But to do that again, and again, and again for 269 more shots (or 299 if there’s a leg match) is quite something else.

Some will say that the most important lessons to learn in Bullseye are sight alignment and trigger control. Having the basics somewhat in place, I am beginning to understand not only how vital those two are, but also just how difficult they are to master.

Knowing and doing are two different things. But I would add that doing and doing on demand are, again, two different things.

In this period of consolidation for the past several months, I’ve begun to suspect that “mastering” the basics is a good, valuable and essential first step, but no more than that. It’s a good start.

What remains is to master sight alignment and trigger control, and to not do it just once or twice per target or match but truly master them and do them again, and again, and again, round after round, target after target, match after match.

My admiration of shooters in the High Master category has skyrocketed in the past few months. I now have a very small inkling of understanding of what they do and it is truly awesome.

Now when I watch someone who hits that 10 ring over and over — Steve Reiter cleaned two slow fire targets yesterday — I am at a loss for words.

I’m not being trite when I say, “Nice shot!” Instead, I am dumbfounded.

I know that everyone single one of those shots truly was a “Nice shot!”

The tasks before me are to consolidate the learned skills but then to focus on the front sight and move the trigger straight back.

Trigger control.

It’s time for me to learn some trigger control.

So simple.

So hard.

1 thought on “Consolidation

  1. Ed,

    Since you were kind enough to post on my blog the other day, I thought it was time to look at yours again. Its been a while since you last posted my friend.

    Your current post is extremely close to the same dilemmas I’m facing. About six or seven months ago my indoor team captain made this observation: “Tony, it’s great to see how you’ve elevated your shooting over the past year and a half. You’ve gone from ‘ignorance is bliss’ to ‘now you know how much you don’t know.” He meant it as a compliment; he was attempting to acknowledge me a struggling new shooter that had a dedicated desire to learn. Yeah, I’ve conceptually learned a lot but mastery is whole other story.

    I too watch other masters with awe knowing full well they’re freaking light years ahead of me. Even now I doubt myself as having the capacity to fully appreciate their abilities.

    I’m confident that someday we’ll both get somewhere with this sport.

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