The New Rules of Marksmanship – Scientific learning

Want an introduction to the best way to ingrain skills so that stress, adrenaline and pressure won’t degrade them? Read on for an introduction to the biological process of learning, and the ways to structure learning so that it sticks.

The Survival Podcast

So the other day I was listening to a Jack Spirko The Survival Podcast episode called the new rules of marksmanship. It was an ex-SEAL (Chris Sajnog) discussing what he’d figured out about the correct way to learn skills after training everybody from guys in the teams to various 3-letter agencies, to civilians. It was a good interview, entertaining, interesting, very informative. Everybody “knows” the right way to learn new skills – start slow; break it down into small components; keep it stress free for as long as possible. The problem is we “know” these things, but we cheat on them. We haven’t really internalised the correct way to learn new stuff, so we add stress too fast. We put the whole movement together instead of breaking into smaller pieces. Why do we do this? Because shooting and fighting is fun. We want to get to the good stuff quick. We lack patience. We lack discipline.


The New Rules of Marksmanship

What the New Rules of Marksmanship does is take what we superficially know (small pieces, no stress, slowly to begin with), and delves into why they’re important, some of the science behind it. He gives you the knowledge to internalise why this I the best way to do it. Once you understand more fully just why it’s important to do things the right way, it’s easier to put off skipping ahead to the fun stuff and maintain discipline through the learning process.


Why should I care?

I already know how to shoot, why should I care about any of this? 3 reasons: First, this applies to ANY new skill. Secondly, you can unlearn some bad habits/flinches/trigger slapping you might have programmed into yourself. Thirdly, you got kids you want to teach to shoot?


The “new” rules

The new rules are what we’ve known all along, they’re the same “old” rules. But the why behind them is new (to me at least).


Lions will try kill you. Next time they’ll try kill you again

Humans have a deep rooted structure in the brain, the amygdala. Its function is to remember every sensory input you’ve ever had in your life and make connections with responses to these stimuli (for example, certain scents [stimulus] evoke certain emotions/memories from early childhood). That way, when you see a lion and run/hide/freeze/yell at it/play dead/bash-it-with-rocks, your amygdala will remember it for next time. This way you decrease response time in emergency situations by bypassing your conscious brain. And negative stimuli are prioritised over positive stimuli. A pretty sunset isn’t as immediately important as the lion trying to eat you, for example.


So what does a lion eating you have to do with learning to shoot?

So the first time some people learn to shoot, their jackass friend puts a short barrel .357 in their hands in a small, enclosed, indoor range. With crappy borrowed ear muffs. And his first ever experience pulling a trigger is forever after linked with a huge frightening noise, massive flash and acrid smoke. The first time he connects the neurons needed to pull a trigger, these neural connections are laced through-and-through with squeezing eyes shut, ringing ears and convulsively squashing the object in his hands. Alternatively, the guys given a .22 rifle and good earmuffs on an outdoor range with calming encouragement develops a stress free, almost perfectly smooth trigger press with no association with negative stimuli and response to mess with it. And the more, slow, purposeful, stress-free repetitions he gets in, the more these neural connections are established, and essentially have protective layers wrapped around them. That way if he ever uses these neurons in a stressful situation (say, someone’s attacking him and he needs to shoot them) then the act of pulling a trigger is deeply ingrained (and protected) to be smooth and correct.



This concept (of stress-free learning is correct, deep learning) ties in nicely with Stuart Shanker’s self-regulation concepts. This is why the kids getting low marks at school aren’t stupid, they’re usually just the ones with the most stress in their lives. It’s hard to do trigonometry when a lion’s trying to eat you. And it’s hard to do trigonometry when you step-dad abuses you every night. And then the teacher gives you more stress for doing badly.


So what are you saying?

Basically, I’m saying what you already know. Start off each new skill by breaking into small, logical pieces. Practise them purposefully (i.e. slowly, carefully, and focussing on getting it perfect every time). And practise them stress free. So when I’m practising watching for a new BG indicator at the mall, it helps if I don’t take my kids along the first couple (dozen) times I focus on practising it.

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