186 — JJ Racaza | Speed and Control

In this week’s episode of the Mag Life Podcast, Daniel speaks with one of the greatest competitive shooters in the world, Simon “JJ” Racaza. JJ’s accomplishments are numerous, having finished in 3 rd place in History Channel’s Top Shot season 1, becoming the number one qualifier of the US Gold Team in the 2010 ISSF World Shooting Championships, and silver in both the 2011 and 2014 IPSC Handgun World Shoot.

Together, Daniel and JJ discuss the importance of truly understanding the fundamentals of marksmanship, controlling one’s self under pressure, dissecting the common problems within the firearms training world, and promoting humility and accountability.

Host: Daniel Shaw

Guest: JJ Racaza

Introduction/Timeline: Eric Huh

01:10 What does it take to excel in shooting?

Daniel kicks off the conversation with what we’re all wondering: how did JJ Racaza gain his incredible shooting skills? What did it take to get this far?

JJ replies that it takes individual accountability and experimentation through application. Both Daniel and JJ agree, admitting you suck at something is a hard pill to swallow for most, and making improvements is even harder. JJ is constantly putting new skills to the test whether by the shot timer or by competition to determine what actually works and what does not. The fact that JJ is a trainer adds even more pressure to ensure that his curriculum is as efficient as possible for his students. Shooting, like any skillset, is an ever-evolving process and one can never get too complacent.

Daniel points out everyone always wants to be good at something but most will lack the proper mindset and discipline to do so. JJ builds off this idea, claiming that in his experience a consistent work ethic has been the major determining factor in what makes someone “good”.

“Right mindset and really just the work ethic… It’s almost an insult when someone says ‘Hey man, he’s just supernaturally talented, that’s just something he was born with.’ And it really kind of wasn’t… I still remember clearly how terrible I was… It’s kind of one of those things I just kept putting in the work.”

05:15 How did JJ Racaza find his passion in competitive shooting? What allows him to remain competent?

For JJ Racaza, his initial foray into firearms ownership and eventually competitive shooting stemmed not from a boyhood interest but out of necessity to protect his family.

As a child, JJ lived in the Philippines with his two sisters and father while his mother was working in the US. His father instilled in him at an early age the importance of using a firearm, should the worst happen to their family. Then one day when the family went out shooting, several people were running an IPSC competition shooting course in the next bay over. JJ’s father became enamored with the sheer dynamic nature of this kind of shooting, it changed his world. He dove deeply into the IPSC style shooting, which eventually got JJ involved. All of JJ’s fundamentals stemmed from endless hours of constant dry firing as taught by his father to the point that these skills became second nature at a very young age.

As previously stated, JJ was constantly finding out his flaws and making immediate improvements, even at a young age. For example, while JJ had been dry-firing proper stance and trigger pull for hours, upon arriving at the range and actually practicing live fire follow-up shots, the recoil would violently jerk him around. So he went back home and practiced consistently having a proper grip in his dry fire reps. This became his endless ritual of self-improvement: testing what he knows at the range then fixing what did not work at home, then repeating this process. Today, JJ commits 300 days of dry firing sessions every year.

JJ Racaza competitive shooter.
There are no secrets to becoming a successful shooter. Like many legendary competitive shooters, JJ Racaza worked on his fundamentals from the ground up, daily.

For JJ, visual demonstration is a vital part of his ability to learn. Whether it be firearms manipulation or playing golf, given enough time JJ can roughly replicate the general motion of most actions.

This is also how JJ self-evaluates himself through video recordings of his matches and practice sessions. He is able to dissect any wasted motion in his mechanics to make himself that much faster in his matches. In the heat of the moment, JJ acknowledges any mistakes he made during his matches but does not allow it to drag him down. Having a strong, positive mindset is vital to getting through competitions and overcoming obstacles. Only after a match will JJ fully digest what he did wrong and then make adjustments accordingly.

21:09 Having Self-Control and a Focused Mindset

Daniel emphasizes the importance of freeing the nervous mind before doing any stressful activity, most notable that of competition. Likewise, JJ goes into all of his matches with an emotionless mentality, living exactly in the moment in order to make each of his actions done with intent.

The worst thing an individual can do is to overthink their last mistake in the middle of their given task. Daniel treats every day as a moment to practice living in the present by utilizing self-control both in and outside of the range. When teaching others, Daniel has observed the moment students start overthinking their past mistakes and enter a downward spiral of negativity is the exact moment their learning process has stopped.

25:16 What makes JJ Racaza’s shooting ability so special?

In terms of the core of JJ’s shooting technique and competency, it would have to be properly manipulating the trigger. Early in his career, JJ was fortunate enough to be shown how to properly press the trigger on a handgun and to avoid pinning it to the rear, allowing for much faster follow-up shots. For those who are beginners, pinning the trigger can help conceptualize proper trigger pull but it is nothing but a detriment when it comes to serious shooting. As a result, JJ starts every class he teaches by covering proper trigger pull and reset, regardless of skill level.

Competitive Shooter JJ Racaza
Trigger control is a vital part of any kind of shooting. Having a good sight picture, stance, or grip means little if you jerk your handgun at the last minute upon firing.

In addition, over time JJ has changed how he prioritizes his shooting mechanics and target acquisition.

In the past, JJ would tell people to “slow down” upon sighting certain targets, so that they would not rush and make mistakes. He realized later it was far more important to focus on proper fundamentals upon reaching a target and letting a round off as soon as everything was correct rather than overthinking the concept of “speed.” There would be times he would reach a target, slow himself down dramatically and end up missing the target anyways, but this time much slower on the timer.

Now he emphasizes going over a quick mental “checklist” such as checking proper grip, sight picture, sight alignment, and then trigger press. As soon as these are all checked, a round should be let loose without hesitation.

JJ Racaza racegun nationals
Efficiency naturally creates speed over time.

JJ puts this into practice by giving certain targets his own mental designation. Larger targets up close are called “attack” targets and smaller targets especially at distance are called “control” targets. The logic is that attack targets require far less perfect mechanics and skill due to the fact they are larger and closer, thus allowing more room for error. Control targets, as the name implies, require more thought and precision due to the fact the surface area is smaller, emphasizing a tighter focus on proper fundamentals.

Daniel and JJ Racaza both employ a plan before entering any potentially stressful situation, whether that be in a potentially dangerous area or an IPSC match. Having some template on how to react to given circumstances helps cut down on wasting valuable time; it reprioritizes the brain to move on to the next step in order to increase your chances of success.

46:15 What are the biggest problems with shooters today?

In JJ Racaza’s experience, the most common reoccurring issue he encounters with shooters is that too many want to latch onto the idea of “advanced” shooting without having mastered the fundamentals. Many of his clients will have hired him specifically to do more dynamic shooting drills, techniques, and to be pushed to the next level, but often what ends up happening is half the class becomes reviewing the basics because they have not figured out the major lapses in their skillsets.

“My biggest challenge as an instructor is that… I get a lot of these guys [who] just want to see the sexy stuff and they just want to see the ‘advanced’… And when you see it, it’s almost like they’re not progressing because the fundamentals, the holes in their game is literally holding them back from being able to explore their next level…”

JJ Racaza shooting class
Taking a shooting class should entail more than just fun drills with friends. Real-world lessons should be imparted and actionable items should be encouraged to be practiced afterward.

The many years that Daniel has spent as a firearms trainer also reflect this trend. The idea of “advanced” shooting is almost misleading in his opinion. Any class that pushes you to the next level is simply utilizing your fundamentals under higher standards and in uncomfortable situations. JJ adds, “‘Advanced’ [is] literally the fundamentals applied in a slightly efficient or different manner.”

Daniel reiterates that his biggest frustration with the firearms training world is the fact that so many who go into this have no conception of what a “good” or “high standard” of skill even looks like. JJ recalls being sent a shooting drill in which the students are running in a full sprint, shooting at multiple targets with next to no accuracy, and being told this is a proper, safe technique. It has become a larger problem—those who do not know any better will simply watch this and believe this should be replicated in the real world.

While Daniel is always happy to hear feedback from students, he does not place too much weight on simple generalized compliments on the quality of his classes. Simply put, most will believe anything they’re being taught in a paid class is amazing, especially if it involves activities they’ve never done before. It takes a certain level of experience to give honest critical feedback
on the quality of content. It is his responsibility as an instructor to be the one who is constantly critical of what he is teaching and to be the one who educates his students on what proper, correct applications look like.

55:47 Goals of a Firearms Training Class

When leading a class, both JJ and Daniel employ an overall template and outline of what their class’s material should cover but there is not a preconceived idea of the exact number of rounds to be shot or drills to be done. For too many shooters, they think simply doing activities in a structured setting is sufficient enough for a monetized class.

“My goal is to introduce as many concepts as I possibly can to your shooting without changing your shooting style. Like, everyone comes in with their shooting style. And my goal is to make you better with all these concepts and then you have a crapload of homework, a direction where to go, and an idea of your self-level of awareness [that will be] is so much higher than when you walked into a class. You can pinpoint exactly the individual concept that… [may have] prevented you from moving on to the next step.”

59:16 Promoting accountability and humility

Promoting accountability in instructors, without stepping on toes or attacking others, is another conundrum across the firearms training world. It is very easy for trainers to “eat their own” as they attempt to push for safe training practices, especially with the rise of social media.

For instance, in order to avoid any public drama, JJ Racaza will at times directly message people on social media if he spots what they’re teaching to be obviously unsafe. On the other hand, it’s also difficult for many people in the industry to express humility or just to push for a more positive environment. Daniel points out he could feature a popular firearms accessory and get incredible traffic, but a training video that promotes becoming a better shooter or better person will hardly get the same traction.

At the end of the day, all gun owners should be trying to uplift the 2A community, not prove whose ego is the largest.

For trainers looking to post their content, a major source of annoyance is the people who offer criticisms without understanding any context of the post. It’s incredibly common for a short snapshot of a training drill to go up on social media only to be harshly trashed by commenters who fail to understand any of the goals of the drill or what was done prior to recording. JJ speculates a lot of this stems from ego-stroking, that many people feel the need to be the first to say something and first to be validated. The culture of humility clearly has much room for improvement in the firearms training world.

To learn more about JJ Racaza, follow him on Instagram.

Article/Show notes by Eric Huh

Gunmag Training's Chief Instructor Daniel Shaw is a retired US Marine Infantry Unit Leader with multiple combat tours and instructor titles.  Since retirement from the Marine Corps, Daniel teaches Armed Citizens and Law Enforcement Officers weapons, tactics and use of force. Daniel takes his life of training and combat experience and develops as well as presents curriculum to help Law Enforcement, US Military and Responsible Armed Citizens prepare for a deadly force encounter.  When he isn't directing marketing for Gunmag Warehouse, Daniel travels the US teaching and training under Gunmag Training, and discusses all things hoplological and self-defense related on The MagLife Podcast.

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