One of the best lines about SOF I ever heard when I first made it into CSOR was from the RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major) when someone asked if us new guys would be on probation. “You’re on probation your entire career here.” That always stuck with me, that just because I had made it, didn’t mean I could stop training and looking for an edge like I had to when preparing for selection. You never stop innovating, tearing TTP’s apart and putting them back together. You may find a great fitness program that works, but you never stop looking for a better one.
For the most part you’re merely polishing your techniques, making them slightly better, and occasionally adding a new capability or skill to your training regime. Discovering sports vision training was a huge game changer for me. Rarely do you find something so fundamental that it makes almost everything you do better. Physical fitness is one, vision training, as I discovered, is another.
When I went through sniper course the importance of vision was really driven home. I’ve written previously on the difference between vision and eyesight, but it bears repeating. Eyesight is what your eyes sense, but vision encompasses the brain processing what the eyes see, as well as whether the eyes are working in sync, aka binocularity (Tavel, 2009). But I realized it wasn’t just judging distance, “spotting the swirl”, or resolving the target in my reticle where my vision needed to be sharp. In fact, in many ways it was easier as a sniper since these were slow, deliberate tasks where you’re consciously focusing your vision.
CQB is every bit as vision dependent, but the environment is much more dynamic. Your visual system has to be well-oiled, quick, and accurate. It is almost completely unconscious, constantly scanning the environment for threats, bringing your weapon up to engage them, and then spotting and transitioning to new threats. Visual acuity, the clarity and sharpness of our focus, is key (Wikipedia, 2016).
If our eyes can’t quickly focus and resolve the image our brain must do it, and this takes time. We constantly practice the gross motor skills of weapons handling, but not the finer motor skills of visual acuity. In my book I have a host of different drills to warm up and improve the visual system for shooting, but I will go over one simple and fundamental warm-up here. If you suspect you’re having eyesight problems don’t hesitate to make an appointment to see a medic and/or get a referral to see an optometrist.
Push-ups are everyone’s favorite staple exercise, and they come in a variety of types and flavors. There is even on for our eyes, called “pencil push-ups”. No, not what you feel like doing when you get stuck in a dry lecture theater in December listening to the eighth lecture in a row about how drinking is driving is bad (spoiler alert: Yes, it is. There, I just saved you three hours). No, pencil push-ups help warm up your visual system for focusing on close objects like your weapon sights, and then quickly transitioning to objects further out.
This is more important than you might think. Even if you find it fairly easy, it is a different matter under pressure, such a combat scenario. In a state of high arousal or alarm, it is difficult for the eyes to focus on near objects like your weapon sights (Godnig, 2004). Training can help combat this effect.
The purpose of the pencil push-up is to train both eyes to work together to keep a moving object in focus as it moves toward and away from you. With a pencil in hand, assume your shooting stance and hold a pencil at full arms’ length centered between your eyes. Focus on the tip of the pencil, and keep it in focus throughout the drill. Follow the pencil as you bring it toward you, keeping it centered. The goal is to bring it all the way to your nose without the image splitting in two. If this happens, stop, reacquire your focus and then follow it as you return to the start point. Complete 1-2 sets of 3-5 reps, with 20 seconds of rest in between.
I cover this exercise in greater detail in my book as well as more advanced techniques and trouble-shooting (like what to do if you find your eyes aren’t working together). If you find you aren’t totally convinced of the value of sports vision training try out the exercise, and pay attention to your visual system as it works its magic. Is it holding you back from getting rounds down range faster? Are you quicker acquiring and reacting to threats on your left or right side? Are you quicker on the range than in the house? These are the questions I asked myself when I first discovered vision training. I also wondered if it really was something I could train although I really shouldn’t have. Like physical fitness it’s all about building up stronger muscles and neural networks for stronger, quicker, and more accurate reactions. It’s now a staple part of my training and I continue to look for the next edge.
Godnig, E. (2004). The Police Policy Studies Council. Retrieved from Vision and Shooting: http://www.theppsc.org/Staff_Views/Godnig/vision_and_shooting.htm
Tavel, D. (2009, August 12). Dr Tavel. Retrieved from The Difference Between Eyesight and Vision: http://www.drtavel.com/blog/eye-health/the-difference-between-sight-vision/
Wikipedia. (2016, August 23). Wikipedia. Retrieved from Visual Acuity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_acuity
(featured image courtesy: borongaja.com)