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  • Writer's pictureMemphis Beech

Myelination: The Latest Tactical Buzzword

Have you attended  a class and heard the lead instructor use the term "muscle memory?"  Silly rabbit, muscles don't have memory.  "Myelination," is likely what is uttered as if to figuratively catch the instructor from falling.  That's usually as far as the conversation goes.  Most folks just grab that ball and run with it, and I've heard it multiple times over the years.  It wasn't until about a year or so ago when I finally learned where this term entered the training community.

The Active Self Protection Instructor Certification had us read six different books plus weekly zoom meetings, nightly assignments and book reports. It felt like a college semester, but we learned a ton about how people learn. One of the more impactful books was "The Talent Code," by Daniel Coyle.

"Every human movement, thought, or feeling is a precisely timed electric signal traveling through a chain of neurons -- a circuit of nerve fibers. Myelin is the insulation that wraps these nerve fibers and increases signal strength, speed, and accuracy. The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit, and the stronger, faster, and more fluent our movements and thoughts become."
Daniel Coyle, "The Talent Code," (c) 2009

Please remember that this was just a taste. Most practitioners are much better served reading it for themselves. Simply put, this book should be required reading for any firearm instructor.

Here's the link, and I don't even make money from this:

Well that's just the problem here? Isn't it?

Without reading the book, instructors miss out on the deeper lessons within. They only received a passing familiarity with the term, and even that familiarity is iffy at best. They only took a sip of this material, when they really needed to drink it in and digest it fully.

Specifically the word "myelination" usually makes me cringe when I hear it.  And this is for two reasons that I commonly see in training classes.


1.  You used the word inaccurately.  

It is not to be simply substituted for "muscle memory" to avoid losing favor with students.   When you talk about myelination, you are asking me to picture the insulating of neural fibers.  That's a part of the process but that's not the context you used here, which is to "learn the thing, and/or do the thing better."


2.  You're talking over your students' heads.

As instructors, it's not enough to just be understood, but we need to not be misunderstood.  By using a term that your students may not know, you now leave room for error in how your message is interpreted.  If that doesn't sit well with you, then now you need to eat up precious class time to explain what myelination is.  

It doesn't matter how you say it.  All that matters is how it was heard.


"So what do I say instead of 'muscle memory?'"

John Hearne of Rangemaster FTS and of Two Pillars Training calls it "building a motor program" which is extremely accurate.  I love that term, because everyone gets the same picture this way.  You can even borrow from Daniel Coyle the author himself and call it "deep practice."  I would shift this a little to avoid confusion and call it "thoughtful practice" or "mindful practice."


Semantics aside, I believe that most trainers would agree.  All we want is for our people to practice.  If you would simply practice a task, it gets easier and smoother.  If that's what you want me to hear, then use simple words that even a Jarhead can understand.  I came for a shooting class, not a vocabulary lesson.

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