In 1645, The Legendary Ronin Miyamoto Musashi put to words his final work, Dokkōdō. The Way of Walking Alone. One of the rules felt like it was speaking directly to me. “16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.”
All words have double meaning. There is a symbolic meaning to Musashi’s words, and there is much to learn from them. But there are also literal meanings to his words.
Musashi is one of the greatest warriors of history, and I know exactly why he advises a warrior not to practice with weapons beyond what is useful. It isn’t simply a matter of not collecting weapons, the practice is even more important.
I am guilty as sin. The knowledge and experience with all available action types and calibers has been useful, true. I have far more knowledge and experience than the average civilian shooter. There is a downside, however.
There is a real disadvantage to practicing with weapons beyond what is useful.
Muscle Memory and Somatic Markers
Muscle memory is a simple concept. Your body learns a motion and remembers how to do it. When you do that motion from now on, your body can do it a little better than before.
This is how you build skill. Specifically, this is how you improve economy of motion.
Economy of motion simply means that you are not wasting any movement. Not wasting movement means you don’t waste energy. It also means you can perform the motion smoother, swifter, and surer.
The difference between Average Joe and Real Pro is economy of motion.
The best is the basic done better, and a Real Pro can do the basics the best. They do this with economy of motion, which is built through muscle memory.
Muscle memory works by way of somatic markers. Somatic markers are how your body learns a motion and remembers how to do it.
Your body and mind are connected. They are one and the same. When your body does something, your mind says, “Ah, I know what is happening.”
Your mind tells your body to learn the motion and remember it. It uses this muscle memory to improve economy of motion over time. This is how all physical skills are sharpened.
Musashi knew these things intimately, even if he did not know their names.
He didn’t need their names, he simply knew it was truth. He knew they were so important that they belonged in The Way of Walking Alone.
Why you should not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful:
Imagine you have three weapons with similar jobs, but different operation. Imagine you have a single action revolver, a double action revolver, and a semi-automatic pistol. They all have the same job but are used differently.
When you collect these weapons, you will want to practice with them. Otherwise, you could not justify owning them. So you practice with them.
You are developing somatic markers with all three guns. Developing muscle memory with all three guns.
But you can’t develop economy of motion with all three guns!
You could, but it would take much longer and make you a much less effective warrior. This is because you are adding complication. Adding an extra, unnecessary step.
You pick up a gun and your brain has to ask, “Which of my guns is this? How does it work? Does it have a manual safety? Do I have to rack a slide? Do I have to cock a hammer?”
This creates momentary hesitation that can get you killed. Even if it does not, it will impair your growth. You will never be able to do three things as well as you can do one thing, yet that is exactly what you’re trying to do.
The more ingrained and consistent your somatic markers are, the more you develop muscle memory. The more developed your muscle memory, the greater your economy of motion.
You will build and develop a skills that will keep you alive. A Ronin walks alone, no one is standing beside him when death tests his resolve.
Weapons Platforms and Purpose
The first, obvious step is to choose one platform per purpose. Only use one style of handgun for self defense. One style of rifle for hunting. One style of home defense weapon.
Remember somatic markers – when your hands wrap around your gun, your brain tells your body what it is for. Your body will know the difference between your home defense gun and your hunting gun.
Your mind will tell your body, “This is not a time of rest and relaxation, this is a fight for our survival.”
As you develop those somatic markers, without breaking stride to develop similar markers, you build skill. Not breaking stride means you don’t stop moving towards your vision of mastery.
An object in motion will stay in motion. We all know this. Your progression of skill is no different.
Why would you stop developing skill and pivot into developing skill with something else? That’s chasing your tail in a circle like a dog. You’re not a dog, you’re a man.
Choose one platform per purpose, using the rest of these criteria as your guide.
May Your Weapons Design Be Intelligent
There is no need to make something simple seem complicated. Just because you can “get by” with something doesn’t mean you should. Take design into account intelligently.
What was your gun designed for? What was your cartridge designed for? This is the only area where you need to take action and cartridge into account.
Fortunately for your preferences, literally every handgun action type was intended for self defense. You can breathe a little easier. Action isn’t a concern here – you can become masterful with any action if you only practice with one type.
What really matters in a handgun is the cartridge. Was the round designed for hunting? Self defense? Or just to sell?
You want to select a self defense caliber that was designed to be used against humans. That still gives you a lot of options. I can’t make the decision as to what’s useful for you, only you can do that.
Hunting? Choose a cartridge designed for a creature the size of your quarry. Choose an action designed likewise. Set it and forget it – do not think you need a new rifle for every slightly different game animal.
Home defense? Choose a weapon platform designed for fighting and fighting close. Unless you live out in the sticks, rifles are out.
Chances are good you know if your gun wasn’t designed for what you’re doing with it.
Ergonomics, In Carry and In Firing
We can talk stances, drills, and techniques all day long. When the chips are down, though, something will come over you. Something called stress.
Stress has a way of making you forget stances, drills, and techniques.
When you’re in the grip of stress, the things that will see you through are the basics. And the basics are a lot better when your gun is ergonomic. Ergonomic in carry and ergonomic in firing.
Ergonomics really just means “how well it fits you”. It also means “how easy it is to handle”.
Carry ergonomics for a handgun means a belt and holster that work for you, not against you. It also means carrying in a position that is natural and swift. These things, combined with creating muscle memory in practice, lead to greater economy of motion.
For a rifle or shotgun, carry ergonomics means a sling. The sling is to the long gun what the holster is to the hand gun. Work out a carry system that works for you.
Firing ergonomics means several things.
How well does the gun fit your hands? If it’s a long gun, what is the length of pull? Can you maintain a respectable cadence, or do you need a recoil pad? Are you actually accurate under stress with it?
If your gun is hard to carry, you won’t have it when you need it. Period.
Know Your Weapons Inside and Out
Whatever platform you decide to use, you should demand mastery. Accept no less from yourself.
To achieve mastery with your weapons, you can not be a casual user. You can’t be a non-dedicated warrior – a non-dedicated warrior is a dead one. You should know your weapons inside and out.
If a part is worn, you should know it. You should already know how to repair it, and if possible, have the part on hand. Since you are only using one platform per purpose, this is not difficult.
You should field strip your gun and inspect it regularly. Doing so weekly is ideal. You should detail strip your gun every 6 weeks, or every month if possible.
If you don’t know the difference between field stripping and detail stripping, think of what you do when you clean your gun.
When you take your gun apart for cleaning, that is field stripping. Detail stripping means taking your gun apart as far as possible and inspecting each part.
Since you will be disassembling your firearm regularly, choose one that is easy to disassemble. There are many, many guns that are easy to disassemble. Don’t make simple things complicated.
This level of maintenance is often considered excessive or overkill. It is not. It is the difference between the casual and the dedicated. The difference is mastery.
Finally, Your Weapons Must Be Bad Ass
“Bad ass” is subjective. It’s supposed to be. Whatever your definition of bad ass is, your weapons should fit it.
If your weapons aren’t bad ass, you won’t like them. This is critically important.
If you don’t like them, you won’t be inclined to maintain them. You won’t want to practice with and carry them. You will doubt your decision, suffering from the common “buyer’s remorse”.
Do you know what this leads to? It leads to collecting weapons and practicing with weapons beyond what is useful.
You will be the proud owner of a lot of shit you don’t know how to use.
Down this road, you will waste a lot of money. You will make it harder to build skill. You will create the illusion of affluence with an abundance of options.
It’s better to have bad ass weapons, because you’ll be motivated to be a bad ass.
You can be a broke ass, buying lots of things you don’t need. You can be a bad ass, achieving mastery with what you have.
How to Choose Your Personal Defense Weapons
- Choose one platform per purpose and stick with it.
- Select a weapon designed for the purpose you intend to use it for.
- Ensure that your weapons are ergonomic for you, in carrying and in firing.
- Know your weapons inside and out, do not make things harder on yourself.
- Make sure you choose something bad ass.
Notice I didn’t tell you expressly what to choose. There’s a reason for that. What’s right for you isn’t what’s right for me.
Our situations, backgrounds, and experience levels will be different. Most importantly, our preferences and our definition of bad ass is probably different.
Everything that you see in the sales ads? Completely unimportant.
If you use these five criteria, you can build the one thing that actually matters. The only thing that will actually save your life: skill.
Miyamoto Musashi was right, to the surprise of no one.
What’s that I always say? Live Free, Make Money, Pack Iron.
They’re listed in that order for a reason. Musashi knew it, I know it, and now you know it. Instead of buying another gun you don’t need, you can now practice with only what is useful.