What Toolbox?

16-Sep-10 – 18:18 by ToddG

One of — if not the — most overused, misunderstood, worthless cliches in the shooting world:

It’s another tool in the toolbox!

It’s really not that simple, and it’s rarely that useful.

The idea, supposedly, is that having options is good. The argument goes something like this: You don’t know what might happen in a fight, so it’s better to have an answer for as many situations as possible. Seems reasonable enough, yes?

But there is a problem with that line of reasoning so gigantic that no rational person should miss it: limited resources.

First, how do you learn this New Tool? Probably in a class. So you spend one or maybe more days on the range just to take away some technique that may or may not be useful under some bizarre limited circumstance.

Second, how do you become proficient with this New Tool? You’ll have to devote practice time to it, meaning that skills with more universal functionality (like, say, hitting your target or getting your gun out of your holster) get less emphasis.

Third, what is going to happen under extreme stress in a dynamic, chaotic situation? Your brain is going to need to cycle through all the different things you’ve learned and practiced. So each and every New Tool is just adding more chaos to your reaction.

I was reminded of this whole problem in a recent online discussion about a particular shooting stance/school that is often mentioned as being “great for shooting over your shoulder when in the driver’s seat of your car.” Seriously? How many times am I likely to be shooting over my shoulder while in the driver’s seat? And if something does happen requiring me to shoot from that position, is my current skill set so inadequate that I need to devote training resources to learning this New Tool?

Of course, this doesn’t mean that anything new is automatically bad. But it does tell us that perhaps we should be selective in what we devote our precious limited training and mental resources to. A great rule of thumb was developed years ago by Dale McClellan, former Navy SEAL, one of the original instructors at Blackwater, and then co-founder of Special Tactical Services:

  • Does it work?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Can I do it under stress?

If a cool new uber-ninja technique can’t meet those three criteria, then you seriously need to assess whether the time, money, and energy put into learning it will pay off in real terms.

At a certain point, your toolbox can be so full of crazy esoteric tools that when you need a hammer, you won’t be able to find it…

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 17 Responses to “What Toolbox?”

  2. Preach it, brother! I’ve read this time and time again in combat philosophy books (e.g. Meditations on Violence); an automatic response that can be done well immediately is worth any number of “hold-on-a-minute” techniques.

    It’s worth spending some down time after a training event, journaling out what’s been learned and letting the best/most useful float to the top for inclusion in one’s core practice routines.

    By Rex Dart on Sep 16, 2010

  3. I was reading in an article of surefire’s Combat Tactics magazine, and i noticed in an article instructor Dave Harrington had the students learning how to twist and shoot and while its not the same as shooting from behind your shoulder in a car i think its a similar tool and one that would be quite useful, but i don’t think many schools or instructor’s teach this.

    By David on Sep 16, 2010

  4. Good article. It should be a question of “what can I do to improve my skillset” as opposed to “what can I add to my skillset”.

    By Gordon on Sep 17, 2010

  5. Seems more logical to have a considerably shorter list of things you are good at rather than a long list of stuff you have been exposed to but cannot do very well.

    By Tom on Sep 17, 2010

  6. How many times am I likely to be shooting over my shoulder while in the driver’s seat?

    You’re not from Texas, are you?

    By pdb on Sep 17, 2010

  7. Right on Todd. You can fix most anything with a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and a hammer.

    By marshalldodge on Sep 17, 2010

  8. Simple Is Good…

    By Richv on Sep 17, 2010

  9. Randy Cain would say “There is no tactical rolodex.” And then a long rant about Hick’s Law and some story or another about people getting shot. :)

    so yeah, I agree

    In fact Ive decided to try to take some tool out of my box to be able to concentrate more time and energy on important skills like fast accurate first rounds hits and shooting on the move.
    Good bye practicing light techniques and hello WML !

    Simplicity is good.

    By Shawn.L on Sep 17, 2010

  10. Most people can’t do the basics well, why complicate their lives with fancy tools. Get the basics to where you can do them by rote,
    Accurate Shot Placement
    Freeing your mind to make important decisions like:
    Make Distance!
    Cover there!
    Remove myself & my loved ones from the conflict.

    By rsa-otc on Sep 17, 2010

  11. I find something very similar occuring in martial arts. I’ve trained in Isshin-ryu Karate for about 6 years and I assist with teaching junior students. Every time I work with them they’re asking me when they get to learn “advanced” technique. I tell them there’s no such thing as advanced technique; only basics that have been practiced to the point that they can be done in one’s sleep. We do practice katas, but we see them as methods of demonstrating principles rather than actual combat or “advanced” technique. In the end, it’s the basics that will save your life whether they’re hand-to-hand or firearms skills.

    Sorry for the off-topic post.

    By Will on Sep 19, 2010

  12. Great post!

    I recently got into an argument with a local “instructor”. Basically he was trying to justify teaching different responses to different situations…… “tools in the tool box”

    Proper draw, press-out etc. win the day in simplicity and work 99% of the time.

    Keep up the great work!

    By Nickel on Sep 20, 2010

  13. I agree with you Todd when it comes to combat shooting and other similar skills. I’ve always used the tool in the toolbox saying for other skill sets that do not necessarily require unconscious competence to execute, such as tying an anchor point for a rappel, rigging a rescue harness, land navigation with a compass, etc.

    By Rich L on Sep 20, 2010

  14. Yes most problems can be fixed with a hammer, screwdriver and a pair of pliers but there is always the one bolt from a 1942 Studabaker that takes a special tool to fix.

    I try to learn something from every class I go to even if it is what not to do in a given situation.

    I do agree that if you have a tool or technique and you dont practice it to the point of mastery then you are better off without it.

    Over the years I have learned and owned many tools some I got rid of because they proved to be worthless in the real world and others were phased out only to be replaced by others.

    Mastery of the hammer, screwdriver and pliers have been and always will be a requirement before moving on to power tools but in the end they are all “Tools in the toolbox”

    By Robert Retford on Sep 22, 2010

  15. Simple is good, and the expression can certainly be misused, but I still think it’s an applicable one. (maybe because I just used it the other night and then read this post and now I’m all defensive? self evaluation ongoing)

    By Rob Engh on Sep 23, 2010

  16. If you don’t know how to reload your pistol, then learning to reload is “another tool in the toolbox” and obviously that’s a good thing. But if you know eight different ways to reload your gun and practice all eight of them, you are probably not making efficient use of your training time… and you are giving yourself a serious conditional branching issue under stress when it comes time to reload.

    By ToddG on Sep 23, 2010

  17. this right here “a serious conditional branching issue under stress” hurts my brain.

    By Rob Engh on Sep 23, 2010

  18. Todd not disagreeing but on the other end of the spectrum if you have mastered only one way to reload your pistol but the situation at hand will not allow you to use “that way” you risk losing more than your pride.
    Not saying you need 27 branches to accomplish the same mission but you also need to have access to more than one.
    Just an opinion

    By Robert Retford on Sep 23, 2010

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