Checking your NPA


I originally posted this in another thread. I revised it a bit and re-posted it here.

Recently, Iíve been overhauling my position using the principle of neutrality. (Iíve been slacking Ė Iíve noticed my position has been invaded with unnecessary tension.)

To nutshell it, you must develop the ability to position your gun in front of your eyes with perfect site alignment without depending on your vision. Experienced shooters can do this with uncanny accuracy and repeatability. Thatís the value of proper technique Ė it just makes everything easier. Robbie still does this daily, (and has been for over 20 years).

To begin with, think of NPA (natural point of aim) as a left/right, or lateral alignment. Weíll work with that in several tests, and then weíll check for up/down, or vertical alignment.

First, assume your normal shooting position, unloaded, aimed at a spot on the wall. Now close your eyes, take a second to notice how your body/position feels, and then pivoting from the waist, swivel your upper body to the left and right a couple times and then attempt to return to the target (where you started). Then open your eyes and notice where youíre aimed. Repeat this exercise several times and remember where the gun stops in relation to where it started each time, noticing the left/right relationship only. If you see a pattern, like the gun is consistently stopping to the left of where it started each time, then make an adjustment in your stance by shifting your feet in the needed direction. Keep repeating this until you can return the gun to your original position without depending on your eyes to realign the gun. Note how your feet are positioned in relationship to the target, and also notice how your legs and upper body feel in relation to how you began the exercise. (Assuming you had to make some adjustments.)

To gain more insight into where your upper body (only) actually "points" Ė try the above while seated squarely in a kitchen chair. Also, while seated, simply raise the gun into position with your eyes closed and then open them to see where you are pointed.

Step two - hold your empty gun in position, aligned at a wall, aiming at nothing in particular. Then, close your eyes and quickly relax the muscles in your grip and arms, keeping just enough tension to keep your pistol pointed where it was, open your eyes, and notice if your sights stayed in alignment. Sometimes, if our grip and arm position are not neutral, when we loosen up the tension in our arms and hands weíll notice the sights are aligned to the left or right of where they were, or maybe up or down, or a combination of both. Also, do this drill in reverse. Start in your normal position, aimed at the target, with just enough tension in your hands and arms to keep the gun in position and the sights aligned. Close your eyes, then tighten up your arms and hands to your normal shooting tension, open your eyes and see if the sights stay aligned at the target. Keep doing this (forever, if necessary) until the sights stay pointed at the target no matter how much tension your grip and arms are exerting. Iíve found it helps (with this latter exercise) if you keep your eyes open while tightening your arms and grip, so you can visually guide your body/grip to a neutral position. Then go back and do the eyes closed routine (as a test) to make sure you stay on track.

Iíve also found it beneficial to do the first part of step two in two separate steps. (It takes a little practice to get the feel for it.) Assume your normal shooting grip, sights aligned and aimed at the wall, close your eyes and quickly relax the tension in your grip only, leaving your arm tension as it was. Open your eyes and check your sight alignment, then close your eyes and relax your arms, keeping just enough tension, as before, to keep the gun pointed where it was. Open your eyes and recheck your sight alignment. Iíve noticed that often my sights shift slightly one way when only relaxing my grip, and then slightly back the other way when relaxing my arms. Before I checked my alignment in this manner (in two steps), often, when Iíd open my eyes after relaxing everything at once, Iíd have perfect alignment. Iím now seeing that two separate errors were producing what seemed like a neutral position. The sites ended up aligned, but only because unequal arm tension was "correcting" for unequal grip pressure. Crazy stuff.

The third component of your NPA deals with the vertical positioning of the gun. Assume the foot, stance, and arm position and tension discovered in the first two steps, aimed at a dry fire target about head height on the wall. Keeping your eyes open and only bending from the hips, move the gun a little below the target and then back up a little above the target. Be sure to keep the sights in alignment with your eyes as you do this. Your entire upper body should be pivoting form the waist only. (This keeps the sites in perfect alignment.) Rock up and down a few times to get the feel of this. Now, eyes open, realign your entire position with the target. Close your eyes and repeat what you were just doing; after rocking up and down once or twice, try to stop aligned at the target with your eyes still closed. After you can accomplish this fairly regularly, try it with a new twist. Align everything at the target, take a second to feel your entire position, close your eyes, keeping both hands on the gun, relax the gun back to a position comfortably in front of your solar plexus. Then return the gun to what feels like your original position, aimed at the target, open your eyes and see where it actually is pointed. This latter part of this exercise tests your ability to find your vertical NPA using the discoveries in part 2, as opposed to simply vertically pivoting from the waist.

The first two realms of testing constitute what most people refer to when discussing NPA. Actually, most only consider the first test when describing NPA. Furthermore, typically, the first component of your NPA only comes into play when deciding how to position your body in order to begin a stage. The second ingredient is critical, however, and even though itís technically more related to your total upper body position, I included it here because it does have an effect on your NPA.

I expanded on the concept behind the NPA because I thought it might help clarify the essentials of proper technique. Nevertheless, don't worry too much if you can't successfully repeat all the above exercises because much of this stuff works itself out with experience. Even so, it's not a bad thing to monitor your NPA as part of your daily training - Mr. Tension has a bad habit of creeping in unnoticed.

- be