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(this paper was originally published in The Upper Cervical Monograph, May 2001)

Book Review:

Practical Shooting: Beyond Fundamentals
Written by Brian Enos
[1990, Zediker Publishing, P.O. Box 426, Clifton, CO 81520]

Michael Thomas

Anyone who has been involved with NUCCA for more than five years will remember Dr. Lloyd Pond and his teaching of the adjustment. He often used the metaphor of firing a handgun when he taught the fundamentals of performing the adjustment. He would relate that the buildup of force in the adjustment, leading to the overcoming of resistance and transmission of the adjustic force to the patient, was very similar to the progressive squeeze on the trigger, and, that the two events both come as, almost, a surprise.

A close friend and patient of mine has long listened to me discuss the NUCCA work. He recently gave me Brian Enos’ book to read, saying that there seemed to be important parallels between our talks and his ideas regarding shooting. I am not a great gun advocate, but my friend’s enthusiasm for this text caused me to dip into it. I did indeed, find interesting parallels between the two activities. Brian Enos is a Masters Champion, two-time Bianchi Cup winner, and has placed in the top-5 at every major shooting event. He is also a certified Combat Master. I will ask you to simply substitute the word “adjust” for the word “shoot” as you read the quotes from his book.

Enos begins his text with a discussion of what he noted to usually be considered an advanced topic: the shooter’s “attitude”. He believes however, that attitude, or as he prefers to discuss it, “awareness” and “focus”, are central to everything that follows. As he points out:
“If you can be aware of what’s happening as you are shooting -not analyze it- just be aware of what you’re doing and of what you’re seeing, there is no limit to your potential.” [p.13] Enos defines awareness as: “an opening up of your mind, your vision, and all your senses to accept and observe things that are happening while you’re shooting- at the instant they are happening.” [p.13]
He believes that this is an intuitive process occurring outside the conscious thought process. The conscious mind, in his estimation, operates through the filter of knowledge, which is your past experience. The rational “picture” you have developed from past experience can close you off from awareness of what is unique in the moment. The rational model will allow development up to a certain point, (the limits of the developed model), but that is all. He believes that for continuous growth to occur that an almost “third person perspective” must be achieved. Enos believes that this quality is what separates good shooters from the great shooters.

The other major prerequisite to excellence for Enos is focus. He writes that focus is “a finite occurrence in the infinite realm of awareness. Focus is your filter for all the inputs your observation brings in…” He differentiates this “filter” from the “filter” of past experience by noting: “The difference between a screen of focus and the screen of past experience is that a screen of past experience built only from your own knowledge of the past blocks observations from entering your mind. Focus doesn’t block anything – it only alerts you to the important inputs your observation brings in.” [p.15]

To further clarify his idea of focus, Enos writes: “Focus could be defined as having a flexible preoccupation with anything that will affect your shooting performance. Focus is simply paying attention to things your awareness shows you are happening, as they are happening. Focus brings subjectivity to the objectivity of awareness. Awareness makes focus possible; focus engages awareness.” [p.16]

Enos believes that present time consciousness is critical to optimal performance. He notes: “An awareness of the present tense is a very fleeting delicate thing. The only way to achieve it is to not think about it. We all, if only for an instant, actually fire the gun in the present tense. For maximum performance you have to stay focused entirely in the present tense all the time that you’re shooting. This takes ambition, and especially so since no amount of actual work or thought on the matter can accomplish it for you. Present tense shooting must simply happen.”[pp.17-18]

Enos makes a great contradistinction between concentration and awareness. He points out that concentration is in its classical meaning, “a narrowing down of the mind to one specific, predetermined focal point. Awareness is an opening up of the mind to all available focal points that have some bearing on your shooting performance. Concentration is limiting; awareness is limitless.” [p.19]

Every student of the adjustment has spent much awkward and grueling time learning the multitude of individual phases that comprise the adjustment. Most people can relate to the memory of finally moving their episternal notch over the appropriate coordinate for the listing only to find that every muscle in their body was fully rigid, leaving very little possibility for an effective triceps pull. The sheer effort required to place the body in proper position for the adjustment seems overwhelming at first.

Enos further explains: “There is action and there is the idea of what that action should be. The space that exists between the contradiction of pure action and the idea of action is the thought itself. The larger the contradiction between the action and the idea of action, the larger the space, the more contradictory thought intervenes.”[p.19]

Enos admits that complete understanding regarding why the idea came into being allows the idea to effortlessly disappear. The steps of the adjustment have been formulated to teach a very complex idea. This is similar to the learning of Tai chi. There are many steps that must be carefully learned. The rote explication of these steps however does not produce the results that Tai chi exists for. “Something else” eventually happens once the form has been mastered. I believe this same process occurs in the delivery of the adjustment.

There are no words that can describe these ideas of awareness and focus. The action is felt or visualized in a more global way. Again, Enos: “If you’ll start tuning in to what you see as you are shooting instead of tuning out everything but what you decide to see before you shoot, you’ll be on your way to experiencing the distinction between concentration and awareness and focus for yourself.” [p.21]

More and more, in current society and in the scientific community, a distinction is being made between participation and control. Science has long believed its mandate was to “control” nature”. Western medicine is a natural outgrowth of this idea. Use of control however, divorces us from the participatory process we are actually a part of. Enos writes:
“Anytime you consciously try to do something to achieve something else, there’s no creativity in your actions. Forcing a thought into your mind in the belief that it will control your actions removes you from the experience. If that one thought is the only input you allow into your mind, then there’s no room left for your subconscious to intuit and control your shooting – as it is perfectly able to do. Thinking short circuits your perception…..Concentration is a form of control. But who’s the controller? The whole idea of control is really an abstraction of the thought process. Your words and thoughts may have tricked you into thinking you have control. But control as such – conscious control over the outcome of your shooting – you have no control.” [pp. 22-23]
The NUCCA adjustment is not an attempt to “control” the patient’s physiological processes. We work from the principle of “non-interference”, removing interference and then trusting the innate intelligence to unfold in the life of our patient.

Enos is not saying that the mechanics of the process are meaningless or that technique is not important.

“Your technique as a whole is only a summary of all the separate components of your technique, and the quality of the overall technique depends on the shooter having a complete awareness of all its individual components. All those individual components should be tailored to fit your needs and the needs of your shooting. Think of each mechanic as being a means to realizing a result in your performance. It’s important that you are aware of the effects each of these mechanics should have on your performance, and if you retain that awareness as you begin to experience the results for yourself, your best shooting style will surface.

The mechanics exist only to prepare the shooter to rise above them.

The only function of good form is that it affords maximum shooting efficiency; the mechanics [that] I believe work the best give the shooter physical control in the least compensating manner. Good mechanics give you the physical means to open up and experience the shooting by not restricting the shooting. Good mechanics enhance awareness and focus. But always keep in mind that good mechanics won’t, by themselves, make you a good shooter. What you actually do, technique-wise is not nearly as important as your understanding and being aware of what you’re doing when you’re doing it. ” [p.31]

Enos discusses specific shooting techniques at great length and these are not pertinent to this discussion. To further confirm his point, however, Enos makes a metaphor:

“When you learned to write, you quit thinking about the mechanics of making the letters and moved onto what the letters mean – using them for creative expression. In shooting, you must also quit thinking about the mechanics and move on to using them for creative expression – the desire to hit the targets…” [p.60]

Each NUCCA doctor finds the journey to adjusting excellence to have many twists and turns. There are plateaus and sometimes valleys to cross. Mastery of the basics is only the beginning. Enos finds a similar journey in his own field:

“My improvement now comes from trying to learn how to see more than I thought I could see and intuit past my own experience. There’s not much more in the way of external things to be found. Once you’ve settled into the basic mechanics you feel comfortable with, then it’s all internal. The improvement comes from the mind’s ability to open up, intuit the truth, and perceive what is actually happening, not from any more thoughts.” [p.62]

Enos discusses the need to be relaxed during the procedure. He believes that excessive tension is detrimental to the optimal delivery of the exercise:
“If you are tense, and have always been that way, then you won’t be aware of being tense. In practice, you need to see how relaxed you are. Notice things about tension. Notice tension especially in your biceps, stomach, and face. Check for tension in your jaw and see if your tongue is pressed up against the roof of your mouth. Just see how relaxed you are.

Mostly, if you can keep your stomach relaxed, your whole body will be relaxed…..A recognition that you are too tense and that you move so much more smoothly and accurately when you’re not so tense could be a major discovery for you, and not only in shooting, but in any physical action.” [p.91]

Enos sees the potential for endless improvement. He believes that “learning to shoot” is an impossibility; that instead, one learns with every shot. It is easily possible however, to learn “about” shooting. In his field as in ours, we worry about doing it “right”. He comments:
“See for yourself…If you keep yourself open to your experiences, there’s no right or wrong – there’s only what you’re doing. Right, wrong, good, bad, fast, and slow all exist in comparison, which exists away from the experience. Your perception of your shooting – what you are feeling and what you are seeing – right when it’s happening, is all you need to know to answer that question.” [p.154]

Any complex physical skill requires practice. Beginners require tangible goals. With more experience, the goals become more internally-oriented. Enos has this to say about his practice strategy:

“Shoot every run as if you were on your last magazine before quitting. Shoot every shot as if your life depended on the attention you were giving it. Never get caught in the trap of practicing haphazardly.” [p.158]

In our field, it is not our own life, but rather the life of our patient that is in the balance. Dr. Gregory often used to make a very similar statement. He would say, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

I hope the parallels between this text on shooting and the delivery of the adjustment have provided some food for thought.