There are three well know secrets to handgun shooting. They are:

1. Sight Alignment
2. Sight Picture
3. Trigger Control

Sight alignment is getting your front sight properly aligned both vertically and horizontally with the rear sight. Sight picture is getting your sights aligned and then putting your front sight right across the middle of your target.

These two items are relatively easy to accomplish. The third item, trigger control is very difficult and this is where most people have a problem. The physical issues are relatively easy. That is the proper grip and only pressing the trigger with the pad of the index finger, not hooking the trigger with the first joint of the finger.

The hard part is keeping your mind from anticipating the explosion about to happen in front of your face. The primitive lizard part of our brain does not like things blowing up in front of us and it causes us to flinch. Anticipation of the recoil of the shot also causes us to hold the gun tight and push the gun forward to compensate for the recoil when we press the trigger. This causes our shots to be pushed low in a very common result known as “mashing”.

There are a few well known ways to prevent mashing. They are physical solutions to what is a mental problem. The first is known as developing what is called a “surprise break”. This is where once you have your sight picture and sight alignment correct, you slowly increase pressure on the trigger. The result is that you do not know exactly when the gun is going to go “boom”. Since you do not know exactly when the gun is going to go boom you can’t flinch in anticipation or push the gun forward (“mash”) since you do not know the exact time when the trigger is going to make your gun go “boom”.

Most people have trouble holding the gun steady. The little tremors and vibrations in your arms cause your sight picture to change. Often times people see the sights move back and forth over their target. The split second they see the sights move exactly over their target they press the trigger. Forcing the gun off to go off at this exact time usually results in a “mash”. The better solution is to keep the sights on the center of the target. The sights will move slightly but you will get consistently better accuracy if you use the surprise break technique even though your sights are wavering a little bit over the target. Proper stance, grip, and arm position will help to reduce this wavering but the sight picture will still be moving slightly. Even though the sights are moving slightly, you will still hit your target.

The next step is to attain what is called the “compressed surprise break”. The compression does not refer to the compression of the trigger, but rather the compression of the time needed to press the trigger and still allow it to be a surprise. Start out taking two seconds to press the trigger. When all your shots are on target, try reducing this to one second, then a half a second, then a quarter of a second. Eventually, you will be able to make your shot in a very short time and still fool your brain into not knowing exactly when the gun will fire, eliminating the mash.

The surprise break is still a physical solution to a mental problem…..

The mental solution came to me fairly recently. Having trained for a long time in martial arts, we constantly strive for unity of mind and body. I started looking at the trigger control issue from a martial arts perspective. It stood to reason to me that if a martial artist can unify mind and body at will, logically they should be able to sever the connection between mind and body. In martial arts we often do this when controlling pain after an injury or when we try to continue fighting after a debilitating blow. We acknowledge the pain but we separate mind and body so that the physical pain does not overload our mind to the point that we can’t function physically.

(Maybe it isn’t separation at all. Maybe it is such a high level of unity of mind and body that the mind has enough control over the body to suppress what otherwise what might be called a reflexive response to the report, aka “boom”)

I learned that if we can separate (or maybe control?) the physical action in our brain of pressing the trigger from the part of our brain that is anticipating the “boom” we can eliminate the mash. We can press then press the trigger as fast as we can without inducing a mash. This is the mental solution to the mental problem.

It is my belief that meditation can be used to train the mind to be able to attain this state of mind at will. When one meditates, the mind goes into a trance like state where the mind tends to isolate and separate itself from the body. Putting yourself into this same state of mind when shooting accomplishes the same thing. In martial arts we strive to attain “mushin” or “no mind”. This is where conscious thought is eliminated from the mind and all movement become reflexive and free from the interference of conscious thought. Movements become reflexive and we do what we are reflexively trained to do.

The final part therefore is developing this reflexive movement as it relates to trigger control. This comes in the form of dry practice. Dry practice is using an unloaded gun and practicing the draw and the trigger press. It can’t be casual or inaccurate dry practice. It must be perfect dry practice. It can be slow but the movements of the draw and the trigger press must be perfect. This way, when we do these movements mindlessly, they are also perfect. It has been said that it takes 1000 repetitions of something before the action starts to become a reflex. It is also said that if the movement needs to be changed, it takes 10,000 repetitions to undo this incorrectly trained reflex. Make the dry practice perfect. Do it slowly at first. Be conscious of each of the five stages of the draw, the sight alignment, the sight picture, and then the trigger press. Do this several times. When the movements are perfect, then try the same thing slowly without thinking about it.

When you are then able to do the movement perfectly without thinking about it including the dry trigger press, then try increasing the speed. Increase the speed of the draw and decrease the time of the compressed surprise break. Put yourself into that no-mind, meditative trance like state and do your dry practice. Relax your mind and relax your body when doing your dry practice.

Remember that slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

When you are able to fully relax and do the movements smoothly then try to speed up doing the movements smoothly increasing tension only on the muscles that are necessary to increase the speed of the task of the draw, stance, and trigger press. Isolate the muscle tension to be very loose and only tight enough to maintain a proper, firm grip and stance. Do not hold the gun in a death grip or you will result in a shaky, tense presentation instead of a smooth one. This shaky presentation increases the time it takes to get a good sight picture and will result in more time needed to get a good shot or will destroy your accuracy if you try to force the shot too early.

It is my belief that meditation can help one to attain the no-mind state to separate the trigger press from the mind. In addition, attaining the no-mind state of mushin will allow you to be a better, more reflexive warrior. The mental skill applies to all fighting arts whether they be empty hand or with the use of weapons. Mushin helps to control the emotions and the adrenaline dump that take place in a combat situation. Emotional stress and adrenaline both impair fine motor skills like trigger control.

This is another reason why Hojutsu is a martial art. It can be improved to a high degree by applying the lessons learned in the East to the use of the weapon developed in the West.

Each endeavor in your training.

Shihan Rod

Using Your Mind to Improve Your Shooting
- A Hojutsu Perspective   by Rod Kuratomi