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The "set"

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I pasted this from a post in the "Shooting Technique Questions, Handgun" forum, which started here.

generally speaking, when the buzzer gets ready to go off - my mind goes blank.

That's the reason surprises happen.

The "last trick" I learned, which raised me to a higher and more consistent level, was to maintain a calm, aware state right through the buzzer, the draw stroke, and until I had the proper sight picture for the first shot. This state of awareness not only includes what I see mentally or visually, but how my body, mentally and physically, "feels" during that entire time. Maintaining total awareness during that one second or so is paramount for consistent success.

Maintaining conscious bodily awareness at the beginning prevents me from unconsciously rushing at the buzzer. Don't make any attempt to control anything during that time, simply remain aware.

Every planned detail, every form of control, should occur as you are mentally rehearsing exactly what you are going to do before you shoot. Then, silently maintaining a state conscious awareness allows your training, combined with your plan, to manifest as action. I call this "maintaining the set."

The Set

(I pasted this in from material I wrote some time ago for the new book. And please don't ask when it'll be done. ;) A few of the topics from the sentence below are "stand alone" topics from other work, but you'll figure it out.)

A set gathers things together, in this case – your training, clear intent (the totality of your plan), capacity, confidence, trust, determination, decisiveness, and conscious attention.

This is probably the most difficult thing I have ever tried to explain.

The set is a state of mental alertness or mental awareness that allows all of the topics mentioned above to express themselves.

The more and more I shoot and rehearse for stages, the more and more attention I direct toward the actual state of mind that I’m going to have, the actual way I am going to feel, not only as I start the stage, but as I move throughout the stage. I direct more attention to that matter than I do the actual visualization of the mechanics of the stage itself. To me that set, that state of mind, is what actually allows those things to be carried out. How am I going to feel the seeing?

I visualize what I am going to do, but don’t dwell on it near as long as I used to. The bottom time is the set; it’s what allows everything to be expressed. It allows you to be able to fluidly shift your focus to every area that is needed to get the job done in the best fashion, but it is not a focus on that, per se. It’s a focus on clarity.

Different people may feel that clarity in different places, although I think you’ll normally feel it in one of two places, either the forehead or stomach areas. I feel it in the center of my forehead, about an inch above my eyes. I can produce that feeling in my forehead that instantly stops the entire thought process and turns my attention so highly onto attention itself that there is no room for thought. Some people feel it in their stomach in an area two or three inches below the navel.

It takes an extreme amount of attention to maintain that state. As soon as your attention slips from maintaining it, you will find thoughts are back and your internal dialogue is rolling, controlling, and limiting you.

The set is an aware monitoring of your mental and physical state. It is critical because, if you start from an aware, attentive state, in which your muscles are set just right to do the job at hand - perfectly, with no extra effort – then, by monitoring and maintaining your attention, you ensure you never go "up," thereby losing your "center." The set is a method to maintain your center throughout the stage and throughout the match. If you start out tense or rushing, it is very difficult to return yourself to a centered position while you are shooting. It is extremely difficult to do that; I have done it now and then, but it’s much easier to start from the proper frame of mind and then, by monitoring that, ensure that your mind doesn’t go anywhere else, ensure that you don’t create tension by unconsciously trying too hard.

As with many things, the best way to describe what something is, is to describe what it’s not. The set contains no feeling of effort or trying whatsoever. It is a very calm, very deliberate, very matter of fact mode of operation.

The set that you are feeling, is not only so much a feeling of awareness as it is a feeling of the whole attention level; the feeling of your mind and the feeling in your body. It is like a somatic, total body sensation of how you feel when you’re shooting. That feeling, that body feel, is learned in practice; the set is the feeling you have that encompasses all the feelings you have in your grip, arms, stomach, legs, mind, eyes and state of attention. It encompasses all those things into one body feeling. That total feeling is a lot easier to remember without using words than it is to try to think of a list of technical descriptions. When under pressure, no matter how big the strain is, the feeling of the set will not desert you like technical thoughts will. Thoughts are always a little behind the action. If you’re thinking your way through an act, you’ll notice your actions are "sticky."

I’ve had this experience many times and have talked to other shooters who also have had it, that upon completion of an extremely successful course of fire, you cannot remember what thoughts you had. It’s a natural tendency to want to think back and know what you did or what you were thinking to control such a good performance, but it’s that lack of thoughts that produces that lack of memory.

The lack of memory is the result of being in the set. By putting yourself in the most favorable condition to allow the ultimate expression of your capacity, that condition has very little to do with thought, so there is very little memory associated with it. So the bottom line really isn’t a bottom line; it’s that your attention always has to be attentive. It can never park itself in one place or get comfortable in one place, because that will only last for so long before the trick wears off.

The desire to remember what we were thinking as we were performing impeccably, when in fact there is nothing to remember, imposes a sense of uncertainty or fear in the mind. Enter trust. Through experience, we must learn to trust that if we maintain a state of conscious awareness and simply witness what is actually happening, the aforementioned topics will manifest themselves to your capacity.

A way that might help get into the whole feel of the set I’m describing would be if you were holding your pistol out in front of you and everything about your postition felt the most perfect, relaxed and neutral as possible, then direct your mind to absorb your body’s feeling. Feel that set of how you’re holding right there. That total body feel also includes your mental feel, the feel of "relaxed and hard" or of "moving quickly but not in a hurry," "matter of fact," whatever means the most to you. No words! The attention necessary to hold that feeling does not allow words to surface.

The set allows your intent to be expressed at it’s highest, most complete level. The memory of the feeling is so total that it cannot be broken down. As soon as you try to categorize any particular part of it, you make it so complex that you destroy any hope of spontaneously creating it in the present.

You can see how your will functions while performing actions in your everyday life; it’s subtle and it’s hidden, but it’s always there. If you’re alert to it, your will is directing your action simply by your intent or your desire to do that action in the most efficient manner necessary. In its natural state, your will asserts itself very spontaneously. When you drop you wallet, you reach and pick it up. If a that moment you are "present," the chances of not picking it up are slim. (Nor would have dropped it in the first place.) If you’re thinking random thoughts when you reach to pick it up, you may pick it up and drop it again. If you’re reaching for a doorknob, for example, and your hand slips off before the door opens, if you’re attentive to your thoughts you may notice you were somewhere else, your internal dialogue was running.

(By "will" I mean your desire backed by conviction, determination, and decisiveness.)


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