I was first told about “fine motor skills” while in the military; the explanation I was given was that anything to do with using my fingers under stress was a bad idea. That doing so would not work, that I just wouldn’t have the dexterity. I was told to use the bigger parts of my hand, or my fingers bunched together, to do any sort of weapon manipulation. This, they said, was a “gross” motor skill that would be better under stress, which apparently makes your fingers turn to jello.
However, I was also taught by other people to do things like punch buttons on military radios and put tiny needles in small veins, both of which require dexterity. In addition, both are skills which might be critical to saving lives under stress (or taking them, in the case of calling for fires). I also found, on my own time, that I could manipulate safeties and slide releases just fine with my thumbs.
Overly Tactical Andrew is about to demonstrate some form of motor skill. He's not sure which kind, but he's wearing Arc'teryx, so it doesn't really matter.
To me, manipulating a firearm is not much different than working with any other mechanical object. Two mechanical objects might be of completely different design, but familiarity with that design trumps both the elements of design and the actual technique used to achieve desired results with the object.
Of course, familiarity with the design and operation of something will naturally lead to the development and refinement of optimal techniques. And some designs lend themselves to being used better under stress or in a rapid manner than others. But whether I am dialing in exposure settings on a camera, adjusting power and prop settings and control surfaces while landing in a crosswind, or using my thumb to hit the slide release of a pistol after inserting a loaded magazine, I am performing dexterous manipulations of a device.
These manipulations are only as good as my recent experience with that device – that is, if I am not “current,” I am behind the curve, whether I am using my fingertips or the knife edge of my hand.Â Some people might define them as fine and some might define them as gross motor skills. I see no point in trying to explain the two when I can simply ask Mike Pannone for an explanation, given that his education and experience make him far more qualified to define the terms.
Here is a document I wrote 4 years ago in response to the continual fallacious statements prevalent in the shooting world as to what was and what was not a fine or gross motor skill. I often wondered how I was able to reliably use the slide stop on every pistol I have ever owned or been issued (Glock, Sig, Beretta, CZ, S&W M&P, 1911, Makarov, CZ82 etc.) or the bolt catch on those rifles where one is present (M16/M4, Sig 550, FNFAL etc.) under stress reliably and without issue when it was supposedly not possible? The conclusion I came to is those that say use of the slide stop on a pistol or bolt catch on an M4 are âfine motor skillsâ do not actually know the definition of either fine or gross motor skills nor do they understand the ergonomic considerations manifest in modern weapons design.Â
Mike Pannone has studied kinesiology. It shows.
Often instructors will invoke the âfine versus gross motor skillâ argument. The below definitions should illuminate where these have gone awry and when they do actually apply. Because the motor skills used for weapons handling are not specifically on one side or the other of the definition it is often taken as all skills are fine motor functions. Two perfect examples of gross motor skills that are mischaracterized as fine motor skills are releasing the bolt via the bolt catch on an M4 and the slide via the slide stop on a pistol. Neither involves âa refined use of the small muscles controlling the hand, fingers, and thumb.â Both are in fact either the use of the locked wrist, extended thumb and the entire arm on an M4 bolt release or the complete clenching of the hand on a pistol to release a slide stop given appropriate hand size or the use of the support side thumb.
***How could a shooter effectively operate a trigger or magazine release on a pistol or carbine but not be able to operate the slide stop or bolt release?***
- âThe term gross motor skills refer to the abilities usually acquired during infancy and
early childhood as part of a child’s motor development. By the time they reach two
years of age, almost all children are able to stand up, walk and run, walk up stairs, etc.
These skills are built upon, improved and better controlled throughout early childhood,
and continue in refinement throughout most of the individual’s years of development
into adulthood. These gross movements come from large muscle groups and whole
- Â âFine motor skills can be defined as coordination of small muscle movements which
occur e.g., in the fingers, usually in coordination with the eyes. In application to
motor skills of hands (and fingers) the term dexterity is commonly used. The abilities
which involve the use of the hands develop over time, starting with primitive gestures
such as grabbing at objects to more precise activities that involve precise hand-eye
coordination. Fine motor skills, are skills that involve a refined use of the small muscles
controlling the hand, fingers, and thumb. The development of these skills allows one
to be able to complete tasks such as writing, drawing, and buttoning.â
Quoted, paraphrased or adapted from:
A Topical Approach to Life-Span Development
John W. Santrock, PhD University of Texas at Dallas
Copyright year: 2008