Of Swords, Monkeys, and the Conscious Mind

As a competitor and CHL holder I appreciate skills and training that will transfer between the two.  With that in mind I am going to start with a short fable.  To be honest, I don’t remember where I read or heard it, and I will likely butcher it, but the lesson holds true.


Let’s begin…

A Japanese Zen Master spends years to train a monkey to fight with a sword. In time, the monkey becomes known, both near and far, as a master with the weapon and is well respected. A swordsman from a distant village hears tale of the monkey and his formidable skill; he decides he must know who is better, he are the monkey. The swordsman travels a great distance and challenges the monkey in a battle to the death.  He must know who is best. The battle begins.  As they spar, with every attack the swordsman tries, the monkey blocks; with every trick the monkey tries, the swordsman counters. As the struggle rages on he swordsman tires. The swordsman comes to the disheartening conclusion that the monkey, with greater endurance, will win and the swordsman will ultimately lose his life to this monkey.  A simple animal he so quickly dismissed. As he comes to terms with his fate a calming peace comes over the swordsman.  In that moment, at peace, he slays the monkey.

Now you are asking yourself (maybe aloud, to the chagrin of strangers around you) “What in the hell does this have to do with shooting?”

Simply put, in training and in action, we often get in our own way.

The swordsman knew he must beat the monkey or die. His conscious was actively working scenarios and evolving his plan. On the flip side, the monkey was just going through the motions. He did not know the stakes of the battle or the possibility of death. He was responding as he had been trained using sub-conscious actions. As soon as the swordsman came to terms with his fate and “let go”, his training allowed him to beat the monkey. He was the better swordsman, but his conscious over-thinking held him back.  As humans we do this every day and while your everyday actions are out of the realm of this blog, it is easy to relate the lesson to shooting. This concept applies to both self-defense and competition.

In competition, you often see people running around blasting every target. You can almost hear them thinking, “hit, hit, miss, move here, stop, hit, hit, ops, gun is empty, reload, etc.” they are behind the curve.  What if?

Self-defense scenarios are similar. Stress leads the body to react as trained. The more sub-conscience a skill is, the more likely a person can perform it repetitively under stress. What if?

What if you train and dry fire to the point where you can see the sights lift and come back down in recoil? Yes, this is possible; imagine what you could do.

What if you practice shooting on the move?

What if your draw stroke is fluid and almost super natural to observers?

What if you practice odd shooting angles and positions until they are no longer odd, but just a different normal?

In both self-defense and competition goal is to develop shooting, moving and reloading into a skills that are retained when stressed.

How do you get there? Repetition and practice. What can you gain? Everything. Imagine going to a match or a self-defense class and knowing you can perform any drill or obstacle they throw at you? Imagine the confidence you would have.

What if indeed.


  1. Mr Daniel, I appreciate your perspective on competition. I’ve enjoyed your articles here. Keep it up.

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