If you have been on the job for more than 5 years then you have likely heard the tactical training concept, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast“.
I’ve been on our SWAT team for nearly 13 years, and I heard this saying early on in my training experience. I want to take a moment to break down the concept of the mantra; the good, the bad, and the ugly! I think there is a lot that can be learned from this training concept, but also a lot of myth that must be dispelled.
First, let’s take a look at the definitions of the words used in this concept:
Slow – moving or operating at a low-speed; not quick or fast, at a slow pace.
Smooth – allowing or having an even, uninterrupted movement or flow.
Fast – moving or able to move quickly; taking a short amount of time; operating quickly
These definitions will actually help very nicely in clearing up the misconceptions about a training concept that can have serious benefits, when taking into the proper context.
So the first training concept is moving at low-speed, not quickly. This is not a new concept, or an unreasonable one either. When training officers on any new tactic or technique it is very appropriate and important to start slowly so the concept can be easily absorbed by the student. Giving an example of the technique at full speed might be appropriate to show the student officer the ultimate goal of training, but would be completely inappropriate for the student to perform during initial training.
Take for instance familiarization with a retention holster. Any reputable firearms instructor is going to begin with the basics – describing the security features, and basic instruction on how to unlock those security features to withdraw the firearm. Once the holster features are understood, the instruction would have the student officer drawing a training firearm (or safety checked empty firearm) from the retention holster using their duty rig.
At first the training will be slow, with one-on-one instruction about hand placement, and finger placement to unlock the security features to properly grip the handgun. This process would be repeated over and over at slow speed until the officer became comfortable with the retention features and the procedure to unlock the firearm. Training would move forward to proper draw and presentation techniques. This is training the basics, and without a mastery of the basics the more complex skills cannot be accomplished.
The instructor would then advance training by having the student officer increase their draw speeds, counting out the draw procedure (grip, unlock, draw, present), to develop muscle memory. Any deficiencies at this point would require going back to the slow speeds to correct errors and develop the muscle memory to perform the function correctly.
As the practice is continued at a medium speed, the fundamentals of the training begin to develop into muscle memory. The principle of muscle memory is that the student officer is advancing their skill beyond the conscious effort and decisions to accomplish the task, to the unconscious memory directing bodily movement. Like a child learning to get the food to their mouth the first time.
With the development of proper muscle memory, based upon solid technique learned during the Slow and basic level, the desired actions begin to take on an uninterrupted movement (Smooth). Again, the action is now more of an unconscious action, rather than a deliberate thought-out process. As long as the officer has properly established the basic foundations at the slow speed, the process of mastering the training action can now be completed.
When the basic skill can be performed smoothly at a medium speed, without any flaw or failure of the foundational principles, the officer can increase the speed of that operation with progressive practice and performance of the skill.
What was once an unknown skill, can become a skill that is performed in quick operation with proper instruction, training, and practice. The speed of that performance depends on the individual officer, and the amount of dedication to building the skill.
The detractors to this training mantra, I believe, stage their arguments from an improper correlation of the instructional statement’s components. Those who believe this training concept is flawed, ridiculous, or at least incorrect, most often apply the mathematical equivalence properties of equality to the concept.
In other words: If A=B, and B=C, then A=C.
So applying the equality principle above to our “Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast” training aid, the detractors claim that the concept is “Slow = Smooth, and Smooth = Fast, therefore Slow=Fast”.
Of course slow=fast is ridiculous! And that is where the naysayers stop. So if they’re going to use math, I guess I have to use math to argue that the training concept is valid. Ugh!
Proper Alignment and Understanding
The problem is that the training concept is not Linear “A=B=C“, or moving from start to finish (though initially that is the process to accomplish the skill goal – smooth and fast). In the same context the training concept is not an Equality Equation, “If A=B, and B=C, then A=C” (where each component is somehow equal to the others, though different in form). Easy to disprove.
The training concept is Pivotal. And that Pivotal component, or pivot point, is Smooth. The key to the training concept is to achieve smooth action of the basic concepts. When the basic principles are solidly learned at the Slow speed, muscle memory begins to take effect brining on Smooth. Once Smooth is achieved, and the unconscious muscle memory takes over, a natural result (enhanced with training and experience) is Fast.
So instead of A or C being related to each other, they are both dependent upon B. The officer must first master Slow to become Smooth. And in order to obtain Fast, the officer must maintain Smooth. Smooth is the goal, and the pivotal component.
In addition, by looking at the training mantra in this way, we are able to see the fulcrum in movement. Initially Slow is elevated because of the unknown skill. All the weight must be placed on Slow through training and practice. As this is done, the Seesaw begins to level out, obtaining Smooth, and if continued properly Fast begins to elevate.
The Ride Goes Both Ways!
Interestingly, just as a Seesaw goes both ways, so does this concept. As Fast begins to decrease in elevation, Slow begins to rise. The concept focuses (pivots) on Smooth. So if an officer fails to maintain Smooth, Fast begins to decline, and Slow begins to incline. So an officer who finds that their skills (Smooth and Fast) are lacking, needs to Slow down to get Smooth in balance. This can be done fairly quickly with some Slow movement training exercises to refresh muscle memory on the basic skills. When muscle memory is re-acquired, and Smooth is obtained, going Fast can become the result again.
Nobody should think that going Slow will somehow result in Fast during the same action. This training concept should instead be viewed in the context that the goal is to become Smooth, which will facilitate Fast. And the only way to become Smooth is to master Slow.
I heard a story that a reporter went to interview Navy SEAL’s about their ongoing training. The reporter was taken to the shoot house, and expected to see some real high-speed ninja stuff. Instead he observed a senior SEAL standing about 5 yards from a target, withdrawing, presenting, and firing one very centered round, in a very controlled motion. This process was repeated over and over, one shot at a time. When questioned about why the SEAL was performing such basic skills, the SEAL responded that advanced shooting skills are only the mastery of executing basic skills. Being smooth is the pivotal point.
Though this training concept is often associated to tactical teams and tactics, the principles can actually be implemented on a large array of training measures.
The SEAL gets it, and I hope you do to.
So have you heard of this training concept? What do you think of my explanation and justification? Hit me with your best shot … that is, if you think you’re Fast enough!