Meditations on speed

This came to me in an e-mail. I’m pretty sure it’s a real situation, but it could be staged — either way, it’s good fodder for mental exercise.


There is an old saying in gunfighting: “Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.”

This is a short, easily-remembered way to express the thought that in complicated series of actions, speed comes from efficiently moving through the series, rather than doing each individual motion as quickly as possible. Another, more esoteric, saying is that: “Slow is smooth, fast is sloppy.”

Gentle Readers, the speed, the quickness in motion that is the hallmark of the truly fast actions required in high-stress situations — is a product of adrenaline boosting actions that are already fluid and efficient.

When the endorphin dump of your body’s fight-or-flight reactions hits your bloodstream, three thousand repetitions of a turtle-smooth, yet smooth, drawstroke will become a very fast drawstroke.

When the endorphin dump of your body’s fight-or-flight reactions hits your bloodstream, three thousand repetitions of your quick-draw-McGraw, maybe-a-bit-sloppy drawstroke will result in your pistol flying across the room.

Smooth in practice gets you fast in combat.

“But, LawDog,” I hear you say, “What has that got to do with the video above?”

Much of what is true for gunfighting is also true for the Rest Of Life. Smooth practice to achieve fast actions applies to driving, running errands — or approaching a bank robbery.

The video above shows several officers getting to a bank robbery in progress as fast as possible — and sprinting right past a car-load of critters in the process.

Remember what I said about fast being sloppy? If the department shown above is anything like any of the ones I’ve worked for, training for this sort of thing is always done full-bore, “To get the proper sense of urgency.”

Impressed yet?

Getting there first doesn’t do you a whole lot of good if you’re going to run right past a back-shooting critter.

A walking approach during training gives you time to impress other things upon your trainees minds: awareness of cover, awareness of extra exits, awareness of bystanders, that sort of thing. Repeating this slow training approach works these other, sort of important, things into psyches — then, when the blitz of adrenaline hits and the trainees are hauling tail, their minds and eyes will be doing what was impressed into them.

“But, LawDog, I’m a CCW, not a cop. I’m not going to be responding to bank robberies.”

Given that terrorism isn’t going away any time soon, I’d not bet the ranch on that, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Any CCW should be practising for home invasions; those who own vehicles should be practising carjacking drills; if you work in an office, office shooter drills — all these and more.

Run your drills slowly — don’t be afraid to use AirSoft guns — concentrate on making each move of your drill smooth and efficient, make each action flow into the next — and when things go all pear-shaped, the adrenaline will make those efficient moves more than fast enough for your needs.


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35 thoughts on “Meditations on speed”

  1. Not much doubt about it being staged, since the description from the person that posted in on Youtube is as follows:

    Saw this happen earlier today (9/26/07) in downtown LA. Masked thieves running out to a getaway car, only to be surrounded by cops who run right by them into the bank, allowing thieves to escape! When it was all over a director yelled “reset!” and the scene unfolded again.
    Damn commercial shoots.

  2. The one I’ve heard is “Fast is fine, accurate is final.”

    I spend a fairly large percentage of my life telling students to slow down.

  3. Thank goodness the cars used weren’t from the LAPD or this scene could have cast them in a bad light…

    I’ll swag a guess and say it is a training movie.

    Anyway, you post is right on center of target, LawDog.

    Well done!

  4. It’s a perfectly plausible scenario. Bank robberies, especially “takeover” robberies where weapons are brandished and possibly used, are chaos. The responding officers will probably have no idea what to expect when they arrive.

    Which is a useful intro into another aspect of this. Lawdog is absolutely correct that you should have already “gamed out” your probable responses to violent attack when you decided to carry concealed. If you’re smart, you automatically sit facing the entrance at a restaurant and always know where the emergency exits are. It’s all part of situational awareness.

    But situational awareness will never be perfect. If you are standing in a bank lobby, holding a gun, when those officers arrive looking for the “man with a gun” that the dispatcher mentioned, you could have a serious problem that could potentially take your life. Furtive movement and mistaken identity shootings are a fact of life. Those officers are already pumped on adrenaline, tunnel vision may have set in, and they have a split second to decide whether or not to shoot.

    My advice is to keep the weapon concealed until it is clear that somebody is about to die. The majority of bank robberies don’t involve an actual weapon. Of the few that do, even fewer involve shots being fired. But those tiny few that do, are usually very, very bad.

    Employees in the banking industry are trained at least annually on how to react to robberies. The most important rules are to never panic and always do exactly what the robber demands. The over-riding goal is to get the robber out the doors with nobody injured.

    Pulling a gun on a robber will almost certainly escalate the risk of shots being fired. If no violence has been presented beyond the robbery itself, your best role is to be the best witness that you can be as you watch them escape. If it appears that the robber is about to injure somebody or has already done so, all bets are off and you should take action as you feel is needed. There is a saying about murder, “after the first, the rest are free.” There is a decent chance that the robber will decide not to leave witnesses once someone is hurt or killed.

    If you end up drawing your weapon, holster it immediately once the threat is over. Do not lay it on the floor. Tell everyone around you in a loud voice to call the police immediately. This helps to psychologically establish you as a “good guy” in the minds of the witnesses. If the bank employees don’t provide you with one, ask for paper and a pen to write down what you remember about the robbery. Do not discuss your recollections with anyone until the police get there as this may cloud your mind with someone else’s memories or observations.

    When the police arrive, keep your hands up and tell them in a clam voice that your are (hopefully) lawfully armed. Do not attempt to give your weapon to them or even expose it. Tell them where it is and allow them to retrieve as they see fit.

  5. Guy named Dan Combs was director of firearms training for OK Highway Patrol for years. One of the damndest shots with ANYTHING I ever hope to see, accurate and spooky fast. Always said that you started SLOW, getting every motion just right, then sped up over time.

    Considering he trained this way, and he and Bill Jordan were about equal in gunnery skills, I took it to heart.

  6. One of the reasons I like IPSC-style matches is that they place stress in the competitor, giving an awareness of how much more difficult fine motor control is for the normal person. Nowhere near a real life or death situation I’d bet, but better than leisurely bullseye for trying to prepare for a stressful shooting situation.

    I’ve had to draw a 1911A1 once as a police reservist, and was amazed at how horribly difficult it was just to get it out of the holster (and it was a good quality holster)quickly, because my fingers wouldn’t do what I wanted them to. Started practicing a lot more after that.

  7. Yep.

    First combat I was ever in (military), I’d been through all the training, I’d passed it, and I was technically ready – but mentally, I wasn’t. I froze for a second or two: and in that second or two, one of the other side hit me with an AK-47 round. Knocked me flat.

    Recovering in hospital, I swore several mighty (and highly profane) oaths that I’d never be caught that way again. While convalescing, I did the usual drills, but this time I put my head and heart into them, as well as my body.

    Next fight I got into, I don’t remember moving: just looking over my sights at the enemy falling, and wondering how that had happened when I couldn’t recall lining up on him and pulling the trigger! It had become instinctive.

    Those days are long behind me, but the lessons learned in those years have saved my hairy butt on more than one occasion. I don’t forget them.

  8. LawDog, an excellent post on speed and smoothness. As an FTO I coach my rookies in breathing exercises to help relax them during emergency responses. If you get tunnel vision you will likely wreck or miss something important when arriving.

    TBeck, a great treatment of what to do as a CCW holder during a robbery. Your post could easily apply to the appropriate response in a restaurant robbery or 7-11 robbery. It also applies to an off duty armed cop. Every couple of years there is a tragic story somewhere of an off duty cop being shot by responding uniforms, it’s easy to forget you are not automatically recognizable as a “good guy.”

  9. In what little hand to hand training I have had, I was taught to go through the forms slowly, speeding up gradually. It is far easier to do it this way, than to correct mistakes you have learned to do quickly.
    And yeah, you should always “game out” possible defense scenarios. Trying to figure out something on the fly, in a life-death situation, is a really bad idea. Why do you think soldiers and (ideally) police, EMTs, firefighters and pilots go through so much training??

    WV: reads. No, really!!

  10. tbeck: I follow some of what you’re saying, not drawing on a robber with a note, and rehearsing putting your gun down and complying with responding police. But the rest doesn’t all follow.

    My advice is to keep the weapon concealed until it is clear that somebody is about to die. … Pulling a gun on a robber will almost certainly escalate the risk of shots being fired.

    And if you fire the shots and hit, what’s the problem?

    I almost wonder if you’ve bought some false assumptions from the gun control crowd. This may be an unjust assumption, but something I’ve seen in other people on “our side” is an acceptance of the canard that you’re safer to cooperate than resist with a crime. That statistic is correct overall in some surveys, but falls apart as soon as you break out resisting with a firearm (safer than compliance) from resisting without one (worse than compliance). Its also self-evidently false once you start differentiating between “give me your wallet” and “get in the car.”

    With apologies to our host, I’m posting a link to a list of danger signs of homicidal escalation in a crime. I’ve yet to see this rebutted by anyone whose judgement I trust. (I would be interested to see if LawDog had any modifications or reservations about it.)

    The important thing in my view, is that waiting until “somebody is about to die” falls into the same category as the gun controllers’ “give them what they want.” Both could be right in some circumstances, but taking either as a general true guideline could lead a person to ignore real danger signs until it was too late.

  11. Even without the description it’s clear it’s staged. If you look in the beginning of the scene, you’ll see the police car waiting down the street until the robbers are in their car, then it starts moving up to respond. 🙂

    But the video being staged doesn’t take anything away from the rest of the post, which is a really great post.

  12. I’ve never been in real combat, so my viewpoint comes mainly from a little IPSC.

    Personally, I prefer “Smooth is fast. Slow is just slow.” Which I at least interpret as: the object of the exercise is to get all movements smooth. You can slow down if that is what it takes to make them smooth. But at some point, you do have to bring the speed factor into play. If you only train s-l-o-w and smooth, once that timer sounds off, you will be slower than if you had trained fast, too.

    Going too fast, too soon is detrimental to proper technique. Because it is not smooth. But only going slow is not good either. Then you just learn to go slow. In IPSC, as in all things in life, there is a balance one must seek.

  13. Lawdog, it may be a movie clip but your point is true regardless. I was a police officer before going overseas, and too many officers are influenced by tv and looking cool. It’s hard to explain that a methodical approach might be much smarter than a high speed “tactical” approach. Too many officers learn techniques, but don’t know the logic behind them, so they don’t know when the technique applies or needs to be modified.

    A hat tip to Streetsweeper for referring me to your site.

  14. Saladman,

    I look at this from both sides of the issue. On the one hand I have carried concealed for almost fifteen years now.

    On the other hand, I work in the banking industry and our philosophy is, “it’s just money.” We would much rather see the robber get away than have one of our staff or patrons get injured or killed.

    Sometimes, giving the robber what they want makes the most sense. Yeah, it sucks, but so does a lobby filled with bleeding people.

    An off-duty or plainclothes police officer has a duty to respond in these situations. That’s why they have the arrest powers and the other powers that go with the badge.

    As private citizens, I believe that we have to set our criteria a bit higher than simply reacting to a felony. My personal philosophy is that I will not kill another person over a property crime, even if the statute says I can. If that property crime is accompanied by the imminent threat of violence to another person, I am willing to act subject to the realities of the situation.

    Now, understand that I will be READY to act during the event. I’ll try to move to a position of cover and make the best I can of the situation. That’s where the smooth repetition of the draw and front sight, press comes into play.

  15. Starting slow, getting it perfect, and then getting faster — that’s a very good way to practice music, too.

  16. LD, I don’t know how your agency handles it, but my old agency “contained” the scene rather than have everyone just run into the middle of an unknown, hostile situation.

    Imagine if it was real and one of the bad guys in the bank was ready for the cops to all come rushing in…

    I’m not sure if your training covered it, but the CHP “Newhall Incident” of 1970 shows the value of both training (one of the officers had the empties from his revolver in his pocket, as they did at the practice range, trying to reload 6 rounds as an armed opponent approaches, etc) and tactics (approached an armed vehicle with shogun at port arms, etc.

  17. tbeck,

    My first post may have been unclear or rambling. I don’t care about the money one way or the other, and I’m not saying its my job to stop simple property crimes in progress.

    My main point is that I reject the assumption that cooperating or not resisting is any guarantee of safety in a crime. Even in the studies claiming that non-resistance is safer than resistance (which, again, is only true as a sum total average), the chance of being injured while not resisting goes as high as 33%. So, if you see a chance to resist in a way that controls the situation, I think that’s the prudent thing to do.

    Again, I follow you up to a point, so maybe we’re not as far apart as I think. Perhaps what I’m hanging up on is…

    If that property crime is accompanied by the imminent threat of violence to another person, I am willing to act subject to the realities of the situation.

    … I don’t know your idea of “imminent threat of violence.” My own idea of imminent threat of violence is any of the seven danger signs in the blog post I linked above. And that’s not something I often hear from people saying “give them what they want.”

  18. I’ve no experience as I’m from the UK. But…

    My granmother always used to say: “More haste; less speed”.

    We did a search warrant for stolen property in a block of flats on the 11th floor in this block of flats where we knew that the lift wasn’t working and the subjects would dump the stuff once they saw or were told what was going on by observant friends and neighbours.

    So we parked our vehicle in the street over and… ran to the main entrance… we knew the lift would be too slow so we… ran up the stairs… It was only when we were all outside the door to the premises in question someone asked “who bought the method of entry kit with them?”

    My personal favourite is the law of 7P:

    “Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance”.

  19. Saladman

    Okay, I agree with Archangel’s points. However, consider this; in a rape or an armed robbery, or a home invasion, the victim has been specifically targeted by the attacker. That is not the case with a bank robbery. They want the money in the drawer. If they are so stupid as to start robbing the patrons, their career won’t last long. These guys know that seconds count and they know that the alarm often isn’t activated until after they leave, unless somebody is being specifically threatened in which case all bets are off.

    My “wait until somebody is about to die” comment fits right in with the conditions that Archangel listed. If you a reasonably confident that the trigger is about to be pulled and somebody is about to be shot, by all means, respond appropriately. I can’t give you a specific set of circumstances. Certainly moving the hostages into the back or binding them indicates that something more than robbery is going on.

    But also consider if you are wrong. What if the gun was intended merely as a means to force immediate compliance? You draw and fire. The robber then fires. A lady waiting to buy a money order takes one in the belly. Or let’s say that your bullet over-penetrates and kills the teller behind him.

    Is he alone in the bank? A pro might have another team member posing as a customer to handle any unexpected situations like an armed patron. Let’s say that you see another patron draw a pistol. What do you do? Is he part of the robbery team? Is he an off-duty police officer waiting for an opportunity to act? Is he another good Samaritan? Choose quickly and wisely.

    But remember, you own every bullet that leaves your gun. And if you initiate a gunfight in which bystanders are injured, you may or may not be charged but you will almost certainly be sued and will probably lose.

    I am not saying that compliance is the answer to safety. That would be stupid. What I am saying is to choose wisely about escalating with lethal force. Decide ahead of time what your rules of engagement are and stick to them.

  20. Hey ronin555!

    Be safe where ever you are at bro. Thank you for serving our country.

    I've had the opportunity in the past of serving along side some of the best civilian LEOs.

    roy in nipomo said…

    "I'm not sure if your training covered it, but the CHP "Newhall Incident" of 1970 shows the value of both training (one of the officers had the empties from his revolver in his pocket, as they did at the practice range, trying to reload 6 rounds as an armed opponent approaches, etc) and tactics (approached an armed vehicle with shogun at port arms, etc."

    Roy! That was covered in classes at SFU! How cool it is to run across someone else that studied the CHP shoot out.

    Unlike the CHP and civilial agencies, Army MP's (at FT Ord) had .45 ACP's to rely upon in addition to 12 guage and M-16.

    Another shoot out that came up towards the end of courses was the Los Banos shoot out.

    A CHP Officer did a T/S ending in a felony stop between Los Banos & Santa Nella, CA on Highway

    Even though he suffered fatal wounds, the officer was able to shoot, pumping 6 rounds into his assailant before going down.

    The Newhall shooting is a classic lesson. Even the LAPD learned from that one…..

    However the B of A robbery, North Hollywoood was a far better lesson.

    I hope every agency on the face of this planet learned something from it.

    Everyone else has posted very good and bad points.

    All are duly noted.

  21. Do not discuss your recollections with anyone until the police get there as this may cloud your mind with someone else’s memories or observations.

    And don’t discuss ANYTHING with the cops, except, “You can talk to my lawyer when she gets here.”

  22. Do you not hear the director “cops come out” of course it is fake.

  23. Firehand: When I was about 13 and in the 7th grade for the second time, Dan Combs called me up on stage at a full school (2400 kids) assembly.
    He told me to put my hads about a foot apart and clap my hands whenever I was ready. I did and he just looked at me. Then he told me to do it again. I did and my hands hit his 44 magnum. That scared me so bad I almost wet my pants, but it taught me a lifelong lesson.
    S-L-O-W for quality, then faster for quantity.
    Took me through a 30 year Navy career, handling and building ordnance.

  24. Lawdog and others. In case it wasn’t mentioned already, the above video clip is from a Chevrolet commercial for the 2008 Malibu. The clip above is merely shot from a different angle from the actual commercial that got aired on television.

    Here’s the actual commercial:

    Your comments on being able to quickly produce a self defense firearm are valid and good as usual.


  25. That was a Chevrolet commercial for the new Malibu…also, the director’s voice on the bullhorn is a give-away.

  26. Alright, already!
    Can you not read that LawDog said “could be staged?”
    Can you not read that he said (in the second post on these comments) “That’ll teach me to read the descriptions”?
    Talk about beating a dead horse.
    What he says is still valid. Deal with it.

  27. I am not going to comment on when it is right to shoot or not other than I think that is a decision for most that has to be made when they are actually in the situation. What I would like to add to a nice piece of writing is that if you carry a gun for RW/CCW do 20 dryfire draws every time you put it on. Beats a cup of coffee in the morning.
    Take care,
    Matt Burkett

  28. hiskid, yeah, he really was that fast and smooth. Almost spooky to watch at times.

    And you have my admiration, didn’t get to take part in a demo with him.

  29. Funny, as someone who autocrosses (competitive driving in street cars in a parking lot with a track marked by cones) that saying “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” is quite familiar.

    The guy with the katana yelling BANZAI! while squealing all over the course in giant clouds of rubber smoke and spinning tires is a lot slower than the guy who looks like he’s out for a pleasure drive.

    To your point, training is indeed everything. In an emergency, we all default to the level of our training.

    Have you done some dry-fire practice lately?

  30. Thanks! The kids don’t believe me about practicing slow and smooth, and they don’t believe the piano teacher. But you are a police officer with a cool video talking about gunfighting and that did the first step – it got their attention. Next time they practice fast and sloppy, I will remind them “what the police officer said about practicing for gunfights”

    Of course, while I was typing this, ds2 was hurrying unloading the dishwasher so he could eat his cake and dropped a bowl.

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