Concealed Carry

Under Pressure — Training Under Stress

Under Stress Training Video cover

There’s an old axiom that says your skills don’t rise to the occasion, they default to the level of your training. The question begs to be asked; What is your level of training? But Before answering that, ask yourself what are you training for, and what are your objectives? By Gordon Meehl I asked these questions of several of my friends who are average joe exercisers of the Second Amendment. By “average joe” I mean their daily occupation doesn’t involve the use or potential use of a firearm. (Did I mention that this is not a scientific study?) When asked what they were training for, invariably the top answer was their desire to protect themselves, family, and property. When asked what they are doing to train for that, most said they get to the indoor range as often as possible, throw a lot of lead down range, and work on their grip, sight picture, and groupings etc.

They were shocked when I said that a majority of the time and money they were spending at the range could be better spent. Why? Because they are training with unrealistic expectations. Only training to shoot paper at the range tends to make you better at only shooting paper at the range. If that’s your goal, great! But if you want to defend yourself, limiting your training to the controlled conditions of the indoor range is not going to give you all the skills you need in a fight.


A better explanation of the benefits of training under stress as well as some great drills can be found in the following video. Presented by nationally recognized NRA instructor Kelly Ann Pidgeon along with former FBI SWAT team leader and owner of understandingthethreat.com John Guandolo.


Don’t get me wrong, it’s essential to continually practice the fundamentals. The more you can practice the basics the better your muscle memory and the easier it is to execute tasks reflexively. With the exception of trying to drive tacks at 15 yards, however, a lot can be practiced over and over again with dry-fire exercises—saving you a lot in range fees and ammo. (We’ll address dry fire training options another time). You can, however, make better use of your live fire time with more real-world training methods.

The harsh reality is, in a true self-defense situation, what most people practice at the range will fall out the window no matter how much time and ammo they’ve consumed. As your adrenaline spikes, the fight or flight instinct kicks in, your pupils dilate, and fine motor skills go out the window. The clean draw from an IWB holster becomes a fumble-fest in a struggle to get a shirt out of the way, the front sight disappears and a steady, purposeful trigger pull starts to look more like game of whack-a-mole. However, that won’t be the case if you start spending some of your live fire time introducing stress into your program. The more you get used to training under stress the more your brain will learn to filter out “distractions” and allow you to focus on the task at hand. All that ultimately increases your survivability.

How does your stress training compare? Do you agree with the information in the video? Share your responses in the comment section.

Gordon Meehl is a Freelance Writer and Photographer specializing not only in  Firearms but also the the American gun culture and lifestyle. A number of Gordon’s product reviews, gun tests and musing have been published in many of the industry’s most popular publications including Recoil, Offgrid, World of FirePower, GunWorld, Concealed Carry Handguns, Tactical World and Small Arms Review. Gordon is a long time shooter and competes in as many shooting disciplines as possible. He is  known for his insightful yet slightly off kilter perspective developed from his time spent in the employ of major gun manufacturers combined with years spent as a stand up comedian. Gordon’s EDC is a Barnes Tac-XPD eating Sig P938 . His kit also includes an Emerson CQC-7 and Trayvax wallet.  Gordon competes with an SMOSarms GFY 5.56, XDM9 5.25″ and a Mossberg 930 custom cerakoted byWickedGrips.com  

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Comments (16)

  1. First, I never said anything to enforce all those scenarios you put up on the wall. If that is what you think then you and I have a different perception of law enforcement. I’ve known many law officers including one who set up security in Los Angeles during a visit of the Pope years ago. None of the those law officers even come close to what you are describing. The ones who do such things are ill trained and have not been drilled by their agencies in technique. They have corrected that to some extent with SWAT teams. Finally, your comment about the guy with a knife is erroneous. Research on the matter, and this is taught in armed security manuals, is that someone with a knife at 21 feet can kill you. Unlike the TV shows a person shot does not fall dead unless you have accomplished a head shot or one to the central nervous system. If he/she is rushing toward youthe momentum will carry them far enough to shove that knife deep into your gut. That is a summary of experience and history.

  2. What always has amazed me is people I have known who go out and buy a Beretta or Glock, go and shoot approximately 50 rounds of ammo through it, and load the clip and put it in their nightstand drawer and consider themselves ready to defend their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

    The most important thing is to learn how to properly clean and maintain the weapon, and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Just as the act of buying a set of golf clubs does not make you a golfer, buying a weapon of whatever type does not make you a shooter.

    If you do this then you will have a good chance of defending yourself-as long as you are willing. No amount of training can make you willing. Training makes you capable. Survival instinct makes you willing.

  3. Being alert for the stressful situations is most of the battle. I really can’t believe that adage that “you do what you were trained to do” or as you said, your skills default to the level of your training. Do you mean to say, police are being trained to kill kids with toy guns? Or, police are being trained to shoot someone with empty hands, or a cell phone, or when the guy is laying spread eagle on the ground? Or perhaps the police that shoot 11 times at an armed suspect who is 15 feet away and they miss every time didn’t qualify at the range? Or are they trained to scream and yell so unintelligibly that the suspect doesn’t know what they are saying so they get shot? Or how about the guy with a knife 25′ away who gets shot instead of walking up to him and using the taser? Come one now, who in their right mind believes a guy at 25′ away with a knife is a threat? Certainly nobody who every took one day of martial arts training. But, police shoot them for what reason? I have disarmed a little kid in 15 seconds without yelling or shooting and my 9 year old boy disarmed a neighbor kid who was waving a .45 around in about 5 seconds or less…cops who shoot kids know nothing about the way kids think. The training of LE to scream and yell is exactly what the psychiatrist and marriage counselors tell the domestic abusers not to do. You lose touch with reality and your body tenses up and you lash out with whatever is in your hand. I’ve been on the range with police and left because of the careless and negligent handling of firearms. Combine that egomaniac power sensation with screaming and yelling and you have an explosive ready to go off. Whatever your response to my experiences and what I’ve witnessed, you can’t say the police fall back to the level of their training…they are human. They start to scream and yell and they “react” to the situation instead of responding in a sensible way. Many of the shootings could have been a taser. NEVER should a 3 year or 5 year old be shot. When a kid that small has a gun, the police pulling out their gun only reenforces the little kids possession of it; gee, I have a gun and look, the police have a gun, too…I’m just like the police… What the police could do is ask the kid calmly if they want some candy and just walk over and trade off… I’ve also seen officers move to stand in the line of fire of some kid who had a gun…that is just dumb. A 4 year old can’t wave the gun around accurately and deliberately walking in the line of fire so you have an excuse to murder a kid is not what they should be trained to do. If police were trained to speak intelligently and clearly so the people they are talking to know what they are saying would help reduce police shootings. If police would learn to be aware of the situation before them would help too. Once they start screaming and yelling, all they see is criminals and terrorists. There is no excuse for shooting a business man in a suit with a cell phone nor is there an excuse for shooting a 5 year old kid with a toy or real gun. Police training needs to include some common sense, some child behavior and some visual alertness to what reality is before them and not what they think might happen if …

    1. I don’t disagree with all you say here. But, a man with a knife 25″ away is definitely a threat. Have you ever heard of the 21′ rule ? Well, I’m older and slower, so the 21′ rule for me is more like the 35′ rule.

  4. Actually they do as a statistic but it does not change the fact that if you don’t have the will you can practice all you want and it won’t do you any good.

  5. I definitely agree that training at a typical gun range is not the be all and end all of what you will use and need in a typical close range gun encounter. Even force on force can be less than satisfactory if the participants just end up playing a fearless game of “tag, you’re it”! Near simultaneous shootings (mutual suicide) is often the result. Definitely a lot of subject matter here beyond sight picture and trigger pull!

  6. Complacency and over confidence are our greatest faults and situational awareness our greatest defense, but no matter our skill levels S– still happens, instinct and refects need constant updating.
    Almost all courses, there are exceptions such as Gunsite, that place syress as part of training reimen, most just are, Good Pal.

  7. I “visualized” before arrests involving people who were straight up going to shoot as soon as they could fill their hands, as John Wayne would say. Works as good as anything else. You can practise all you can too but the mind must be clear to do what does not come natural to most good people. Athletes do it, racers too..trust me it works.

  8. I agree to an extent about your theory of can or can’t. Studi%. es have been done that show soldiers in WWI fired their weapons or shot at the enemy approximately 8% of the time in combat. It got better in WWII, The problem was, when up close and personal, people didn’t want to kill another.
    However, the military started doing more desensitizing training and by the time we got to Vietnam the percentage rose to the low 90%.
    I told my daughters, when they wanted to get their CHL’s that they needed to make that decision prior to an event happening. Mental preparation and visualization are every bit as important to a training regime as is physical training.
    I do ascribe to consistent training. I’ve seen people drop pistols during IDPA matches. It will happen. But what they did afterwards, showed what level of training they have. Navy Seals and SWAT teams train extensively and their training and mindset are what set them high above the rest of us. Both are important.

  9. Having shot guns, shotgun, pistols and rifles all my life since I was a teenager (I am now 82) and having trained as an armed security officer in Oklahoma and then as an armed gate officer at Altus AFB I can tell you that lots of off-hand shooting gives you experience on how to handle your weapon. The training at the AFB taught me that if you are in a critical security situation and your life is being threatened by an armed person that person is going to die. Period! We were told that at the end of the day we should go home alive and safe.

  10. ah wuz wonderin’ jes how much a’ that “stress training” is repeated? does one time thru such trainin’ set ya up fer life? No need to constantly train like a gunfighter? One an’ done?

  11. I have heard this argument many time before so I would like to give the other side. Search Vietnam Veteran Kills Cop and you will see the classic example of how a trained officer was killed at a traffic stop because he did not have the will do what needed to be done. Also, explain to me how every month the NRA can publish the Armed Citizen where people who do none of this stuff successfully defend themselves from predators who try to break into their homes or stores and try to rob and harm them. The main factor is do you have the will to do what needs to be done because those are the more common situations not gun battles or running around shooting people in a combat zone. You can either do it or you can’t, period.

    1. Bravo, dprato. I have heard/read, the same B.S. for years. ‘Train like you will be in a gun fight,’ or some version thereof. The fact of the matter is, there are those who can kill and those who can’t. You never know which you are until ‘push-comes-to-shove’ as a platoon Sgt. of mine told us once upon a time in S.E.A. As a soldier having been in firefights and a PMC/PSC also having been in firefights, it comes down to ‘will’. Your life or the lives of family or friends has little to do with it. Either you can pull the trigger and take a life, or either you can’t. I do think that if one has the chance, going through a ‘Shoot, Don’t Shoot’ course is a very good idea. Know your weapon, know your limitations and ‘punch holes in paper,’ every once in a while. It can’t hurt.

    2. As a former soldier/medic on a recon/SAR team long ago and far away, I disagree with you to some extent. Many people go through “buck fever” when faced with stressful situations from which there is no way to extricate one’s self with loss of life. I believe it comes down to whether or not the individual has come to grips with the finality of the decision to pull the trigger or not. If they have, there is much less chance of hesitation when the time comes. If they have not dealt with the issue beforehand, there probably will be hesitation. In the case of a new hunter, all that is lost is the deer. In the case of the individual who fails to bring the weapon to bear against an assailant, be it a homeowner or law enforcement officer, the outcome will be devastating for someone. As for the defending the lives of family or friends not having anything to with it, I believe that is a faulty premise. There have been many cases that people who normally would not have gotten involved, did so solely because the lives of family or friends were at stake.

    3. It is just a guess, but those “armed citizens” that were not successful don’t make it to the “armed citizen” publication for obvious reasons.

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