Is your training too rigid?
There seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to firearms training, and defensive training in particular. Either you believe in having multiple tools in the toolbox, or you believe in one way to do it. Every time, no matter what. I have at one point or another been a believer in both camps. Maybe age has matured me, but I believe that the radicals on both sides are wrong, but the answer still doesn’t lie in the middle ground.
Let’s look at the toolbox theory first. Having an index card or “the right tool for the job” sounds great. Right up until you need that 10mm socket. Right Now! And the demons in the garage have packed off with it again. Herein is the problem with having a specific solution for everything, you spend so much time finding, assessing, and executing the “right” solution, that, in a defensive encounter, you most likely contracted a severe case of deadness. Five minutes ago.
This goes for hunting, or competition for that matter. You spend way too much time setting up that perfect shot, that by the time you look through the scope, the animal is gone, or the timer has buzzed you out.
Second is the one way rules them all approach. You train to perform the same way, every time, regardless of circumstance, terrain or platform. This way works great, especially for the beginning shooter, but can lead to a freeze response when faced with a situation that doesn't conform to established training dogma.
For example, you train to do a reload the same way every time? To the point that it is automatic? You feel the different recoil impulse that indicates slidelock, and immediately drop the mag. Grabbing your fresh magazine you start to insert, and realize your empty didn't fall free of the mag well. You aren't used to having to rip a magazine with another in your hand, and as you try to clear the empty, you end up dropping them both.
We all say that this would never happen, and the truth it is, it is rare, but it does happen. Especially with newer shooters who only have the "one" way of doing things. So how do we fix this? By making sure that there is enough plasticity built into our training to be able to adapt to the occasional hiccup.
Remember I said the answer didn't lie in the middle? Because it doesn't. You need to have an established way of doing each task, but your methods must have enough plasticity to allow for adaptation based on circumstance. This is where training with multiple instructors and having a plan when you go to the range comes into play. Experience is the only way that you learn enough to know what to do when things don't go right. Only by putting in the time and effort do we get a chance to experience the malfunction, the missed step, or the adverse weather.
Start with a learning a way of performing a skill that works in the widest possible range of circumstances. Then go out and train using it in as many different contexts as possible. Remember, always learn your skills when you are comfortable. Test your skills under adversity. People don't learn well when they are under pressure and uncomfortable. This is where the balance lies. By training to do things one way, but choosing a method that works across the broadest spectrum of circumstances you are more likely to be able to handle the occasional glitch.