In lawful self defense, tenths of a second can make the difference between life and death. Things can go from normal every day routine to life or death in seconds, and being able to react and neutralize a threat quickly and effectively could save your life and the lives of those around you. In order to be able to do that, self defenders, be it law enforcement or conceal carriers, must be able to get their gun into the fight quickly and put accurate shots on target. Accurate shots without speed are meaningless, and speed without accuracy is meaningless.

Dave Spaulding from Handgun Combative is one of the most respected firearms trainers out there and he came up with this simple drill to measure proficiency and identify skill gaps.

The 2x2x2 drill

The 2x2x2 Handgun Drill

Illustration by Alfredo Rico.

The 2x2x2 Drill puts a shooter’s speed and accuracy with a handgun to the test. This drill is to be done with the gear you use for conceal carry or for duty carry, no cheating and using a race holster setup. Perform this drill how you conceal carry or with the duty gear used for those who are in law enforcement. Remember, the 2x2x2 drill is intended to be a practical drill to test proficiency, not a gimmick to show off on social media. If you cheat, the only person you’re hurting is yourself.

At the buzzer, draw the handgun and fire two shots within two seconds at 20 feet on a 3×5 card. That’s all there is to it. It is an extremely simple drill that can be repeatedly executed with something as cheap as a 3×5 card. But don’t confuse “simple” with “easy” – this is by no means an easy drill.

How to achieve sub 2 seconds

For shooters who aren’t quite at the sub two second mark, don’t get discouraged. This is a rather difficult drill that requires quite a bit of proficiency with a handgun. Use the 2x2x2 drill as a goal, not as a discouragement.

If you’ve ever watched or participated in an organized basketball practice, you’ll know that practice is not the same as a pickup game. Practice requires isolating all of the different skill sets and focusing on weak points. One day the practice focus might be on dribbling, the next might focus on passing, tomorrow might focus on shooting, and the end of the week might cumulate in a drill that combines all three. Shooting proficiency is no different. Isolate each skill and work on them individually before combining them.

Draw stroke

A draw stroke must be smooth and efficient. Flashy Hollywood gimmicks will only slow you down. When practicing the draw stroke, don’t rush. Be slow and deliberate at first and slowly increase the draw stroke speed. Pushing for the fastest draw stroke right off the bat will only create bad habits, slowing you down in the long run. Video yourself and watch it back in slow motion to try and identify inefficiencies in the draw stroke. This is easy to practice at home with an empty gun. Dave goes over an ideal draw stroke in the video if you aren’t sure what an ideal draw stroke is.

Sight alignment

The target on this drill is quite small, and that is intentional. As the saying goes, “aim small miss small.” If you can hit small targets at 20 feet, hitting a man size target at self defense distances will be a breeze. Getting proper sight alignment quickly is absolutely critical in making hits on a 3×5 card at 20 feet. This simply comes from repetition – lots and lots of repetition. The more you draw your pistol and get your sights on target, the faster and more instinctual you will be. The goal should be for you to look at a target, close your eyes, draw the pistol, point at the target, and open your eyes to have your sights lined up. Fast sight alignment requires instinctual sight alignment. In a real self defense encounter, most self defenders don’t even see their sights in a self defense encounter, but they do subconsciously use them anyways. Like the draw stroke, sight alignment can be easily practiced at home with an empty gun.

Trigger control

Drawing the pistol quickly and getting sights on target quickly means nothing if you jerk your trigger. This is another thing that must come through repetition, and this is where dry fire is so helpful. A smooth trigger pull can only come through untold thousands of trigger pulls, which gets expensive when using live ammo. So don’t use live ammo. Dry fire is the best way to practice a smooth, straight back trigger pull. You should strive to get to the point where you can put a penny on the front sight, pull the trigger, and it doesn’t fall off.

Recoil control

Unfortunately, recoil control cannot be practiced through dry fire, but recoil control also can’t be practiced through casual plinking at the range. While at the range, deliberate practice is critical in order to get better at recoil control. Spend time at the range with the focused intent to work on recoil control. Make sure you have a solid and correct grip, and focus on the front sight all the way through the shot.

If your local range does not allow for rapid fire, that’s not ideal, but can be worked with. Load one round in the pistol and drop the magazine. This means when the first round is fired, the slide will not lock back on an empty magazine and you can pull the trigger a second time like normal. This is actually an excellent drill even if you can rapid fire at your range. When you pull the trigger a second time after just fired a live round, your “muscle memory” will act like you had just fired a live round and you will likely be able to identify bad habits you had picked up.

There is no excuse not to practice

Fifteen minutes once a day, or even once a week, can make a huge difference in firearms proficiency. Fifteen minutes of dry fire at home costs you nothing but fifteen minutes of your time. Fifteen minutes a week, cumulating in only thirteen hours over the course of a year, could potentially mean the difference between life and death.

Besides, obtaining proficiency in a skill is an incredibly satisfying accomplishment.