Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

I have, I believe, demonstrated remarkable restraint in not discussing Colonel Jeff Cooper's Commentaries before now.

Those halcyon days (if you prefer restraint to enthusiasm) are over.

I've just read Volume Thirteen, #1 (January, 2005) of Col. Cooper's commentaries, and once again I am reminded that it is impossible to read anything he has written without finding applicable value if you are a Gun Nut such as I.

Here's what The Colonel has to say about Fear:
Fear is an interesting study, and various authoritative people have studied it. Not everyone reads their work, of course, and the effect of fear on the marksman is not as well understood as it should be. An expert marksman is exclusively aware of his marksmanship at the moment of truth. This does not make him fearless, but it does make him unaffected during the few seconds necessary for him to bring off the shot. Thus a truly masterful shot displays a coolness under crisis which may be misinterpreted as fearlessness. When you shoot for blood you concentrate totally upon two things - your sight picture and the surprise break. No matter what is threatening you or at what distance, you are not thinking about it. In that moment you simply cannot be bothered! This may be why certain people have demonstrated astonishing coolness in the face of death but who do not do very well in formal marksmanship competition. The degree of concentration necessary for a perfect shot is the same on a charging lion as in a formalized shooting match, but the hunter need only bring this off once, whereas the target master must keep on doing it time and again up to 60 shots without fail. In a successful pistol engagement the same conditions apply. If you are forced to shoot an armed goblin, you should be so concerned with two things that you simply cannot muff the shot. Those two things are front-sight and surprise. They should be automatic, and if they are, you win. That is where the color code comes in. In Condition Red, which is the condition which you shoot from, you cannot be afraid - you are too busy with the important matters required for successful marksmanship.
Well. Nobody's going to say it any better than that. Certainly it's beyond my poor talents to embellish.

So let's talk about something I DO know about: Fear.

Fear can make you weak. Your muscles to quake, your bowels to betray you, and your mind to go South for the winter. Fear is those awful nightmares when you are being chased by the unknown and unknowable monster Chludthru, but you can't run because your legs are encased in mud, or cement, or (my own particular repeating childhood nightmare) the dreaded Tangled Slinkey.

Colonel Cooper has written elsewhere, and often, that one way to beat Fear is to develop Anger. Anger that this dispicable Goblin has confronted you, assaulted you, intends to Do Bad Things to you.

Anger makes you strong, decisive, and chases fear away. It's not as useful as Discipline, because Anger can also make you rash and impulsive. (This isn't always a bad thing, especially if the Monster is gaining on you and you can't hide and you can't run because ... well, you know.)

The thing about Anger is that, while it may not help you to act wisely, it may at least allow you to act. Sometimes, the worst thing you can do is to do nothing; it is better to act rashly, or wrongly, when action is necessary ... than to act too late, or not at all.

When Fear or Anger rule you, it may be that you don't have the capacity for rational thought. This is when you need to have Skills to rely on. You may not be conscious of drawing your pistol, finding the correct grip, releasing the safety and acquiring a sight picture. You may not be aware that you take up the trigger slack while you align the sights with your target. But if you have practiced the drills necessary to make these actions an automatic reaction to the need to engage a target, your chances of surviving an assault are much improved.

Thus it is that these skills are equally ... and much more often ... reinforced by competition.

(You were wondering, weren't you, if I was going to make this IPSC relevant or stay in the nightmare.)

The pressure of competition is not as intense or vital as the pressure of defense, but the skills are pretty much the same. Get the gun. Find the target. Gun goes BOOM! Repeat as necessary.

The Gun Rags (magazines such as Guns & Ammo, American Handgunner, etc.) have used the "IPSC CAN KILL YOU!" type of article as fodder for years, this same palid theme to be dragged out on rainy days when the professional gun-writers can't think of anything to say, but the rent is due and ...

... and so they parrot each other, repeating endlessly their cant that the skills leaned in IPSC are not only applicable to a defensive situation, but in fact they may teach you habits which are counter-survival. These 'bad habits' include failure to take cover, and ... uh ... well, I don't know. This is the only one for which I could find even the most facile justification.

The fact is, when the need to use a pistol Right Now! arises, any gunhandling skills you have may be the ONLY thing that saves your precious patootie. If you have to think about the separate functions of engaging a target, you're probably not going to do real well on your final exam. This isn't the kind of situation which is usually resolved by the application of your vast intellectual resources.

Colonel Cooper says: "An expert marksman is exclusively aware of his marksmanship at the moment of truth." Unfortunately, most of us are not expert marksmen. Markspersons? Whatever. We are the average Joe who finds himself in a situation where all preparations are found to have been woefully inadequate in the real 'moment of truth', which is much murkier, more violent and immediate than any 'moment of truth' we may have envisioned. We're no Stone Killers; most of us have never even pointed a firearm at another person, we can't fall back on experience in defence. Our only resource is a skills-set which has been repeated so often in less frightening circumstances that we can draw on it at will.

Think of competition as making deposits in the First National Bank of I Wanna Live. When you really really need a gun, that's a major withdrawal. If you haven't made the investment, you can't afford the inevitable bankruptcy procedings.

Is this a "coolness under crisis"? It may seem so to the uninvolved observer, but probably it's just a matter of reflexive functioning.

Every time you step up to the line at an IPSC match, you perform the same actions. If your pistol is at where you have learned to expect it to be, all you have to do is put your hands on it. everything else either happens, or it does not.

Do the math.


Cutter said...

When Fear or Anger rule you, it may be that you don't have the capacity for rational thought. This is when you need to have Skills to rely on.Very well said.

Anonymous said...

Those of us who shoot IPSC regularly ARE expert marksmen by any standard used today. We tend to compare ourselves to our peers and since we are not Masters or Grand Masters, we say we are not experts. The fact is, outside of IPSC we are.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Jerry, thanks.

Scot in TX