As you probably assume, I spend a considerable amount of time on YouTube. Sometimes I am there bringing you my creations, and other times I am researching, examining, and learning. Throughout this process, I keep coming back to one key topic (more than any other) in the firearms world...training. It is, at times, astonishing to see both the quality of training people are marketing, but also the type of training people are attending.
Know What You’re Training For
I am speaking to civilian firearms training, which is very different from military, or even law enforcement, training for two reasons: 1. we carry firearms purely for defensive needs, and 2. we are most likely to be alone when we need to defend ourselves. Sure, I go out in public with friends at times and we are all carry concealed firearms, but it's not very probably that a "bad guy" would attempt to harm a group of two or more men in a public space. The concept of being alone if/when you are attacked changes if you are out with your family or children, but the philosophy remains constant that you are your family's, and your own, first responder.
Knowing this - that we are the guardians of our lives as well as our loved ones, we should be training towards the goal of carrying out this protection role to the best of our abilities. What this means is we need to stop kidding ourselves and start thinking critically. We are not doing ourselves any justice by attending courses designed to teach or improve offensive team maneuvers. Nor are we going to benefit from courses that claim to be geared for defensive shooting, yet teach antiquated techniques or simply have students striving for one-hole shot groups. We need to train in context.
If we know that our primary role is as an individual exercising concealed carry, we need to train for that. Thus, taking a course(s) on clearing buildings (an offensive tactic) with one or two, or more, ‘teammates’, this serves no purpose toward our primary goal. Sure classes that teach various skill sets such as offensive tactics and becoming more efficient can be useful, but in reality it does nothing for you when you’re standing in McDonalds placing an order and an armed robbery befalls. So, no matter how cool that gear and those classes may seem, if you find yourself without direct need for those skills (due to employment, etc.), don’t take those classes. Now I’d like to say, these thoughts regarding what is generally referred to as high speed training are in no way a slam against the been-there-done-that instructors or their material. I am simply encouraging you to consider its value relative to your needs as a concealed carry citizen.
The context in which we should most often train is in response to an attack, a fight, a defensive scenario that dictates the use of our firearm. Typically these situations will unfold when you are carrying two certain things – your handgun and your brain. Understanding how to use your gun (safely loading, carrying, and shooting it) is an essential part to responsibly owning that gun. But to respond efficiently to a threat, we need to understand and train in specific and realistic ways. No, we cannot truly be taken 100% off guard in a training environment, and shooting live rounds at other people poses obvious risks of which there is no significant outcome, so we can rule that idea out. What we can do, however, is train in complexity. This is a form of mental training. As I said earlier, when you are truly taken off guard, you will most likely not know your proximity/orientation to your threat initially. In these defensive moments you will need to process information immediately prior to, or as, you react. This information processing is something we can replicate on a training range. And far too often, this is the downfall of so-called defensive shooting classes.
It’s Not a Race, Stop Running One
I have never heard of a defensive shooting incident, or any type of defensive encounter, where one or both parties had a shot timer. Stop using one. To truly train for appropriate response to an attack, we need to stop gaming our training by anticipating the “go”, or beep, of the buzzer. This anticipation builds a readiness to use your firearm, and that readiness is not often found in civilian attacks. This is not to say that acting as a concealed carry individual you will never see a situation unfold with “adequate” warning, but most likely those scenarios would fall into a defense-of-others category. When you, yourself, are attacked at close range you will likely be caught off guard and need to process information as you move for your gun. Also, while moving for your weapon, you will not have a course of fire commanded to you by an instructor, nor the need to complete that course of fire within a certain time frame. In a defensive training environment, these “shoot ‘x’ shots in ‘x’ time” drills are arbitrary, and nonexistent in real life. I feel strongly that continually shooting the same, unrealistic, strings of fire is not only a “not real thing”, but also builds a false sense of security and accomplishment.
All too often I see and train people who feel safe and capable of defending themselves with their gun because they passed one of these imaginary courses of fire (often times their passing attempt is after multiple failed attempts of the same shot sequence, so they’ve had several practice reps). Rather than looking at their pass/fail status, question whether or not their abilities are on par for defending their lives. Are they? Maybe, maybe not. I can tell you that even a monkey can be trained to reproduce a series of actions/movements consistently, and well, given enough exposure to the drill. The fact of the matter is, however, that this random sequence of actions may not work in the exact situation we find ourselves in; in fact, it probably won’t.
We need to be training and shooting against ourselves and our own ability level, and constantly trying to improve personally. There is always someone bigger, stronger, faster, etc. So feeling secure in our defensive abilities based on a gamed course of fire proves nothing in reality. Stop making your defensive handgun training a game.
Now I’m sure some of you are getting mad and saying things like “well, these drills work mechanics and repetition”…yes, they do. But why not learn the mechanics in the same context as we know we should be training in? As far as the repetition, it’s programming. You may be programming your brain to reproduce what may be (in a defensive encounter) bad habits. These are things like double taps, failure to stop drills, etc. So yes, you are getting reps in, but are they the reps you’ll want to bring to the table when your life is on the line?
Find Your Limits…and Push Them
On the firing line of a class environment, or when practicing at the range alone, remember that you are shooting against yourself. Other than considering safety reasons or questions/comments made in class, the fellow students to your left or right should become nonexistent. We need to be concerned with our individual performance; as I touched on earlier, someone will be the fastest, someone else the slowest, and so on. This mental hurdle can be a big one as most shooters, especially us males (sorry guys), have an underlying compulsion to compete. At the core of this individualized approach to training, we need to understand the reasoning behind it. Everyone is built differently, has different physical ability levels, and different weapon-handling ability levels. Defensive firearms training should be about learning to do what we can with what we have – within ourselves. Rob Pincus of I.C.E. Training Company puts this philosophy into great words by addressing individual competency as: getting as good as you can be while always trying to get better. Simple enough to read, but I encourage you to apply it in both your next class selection as well as your scope of attention when training at the range. Easier said than done.
Another factor that can prevent us from pushing, or even finding, our limits, comes back to the gamed course of fire approach. What I’m talking about is the pass/fail mentality in training. First off, let’s consider the classic approach to tests that we have all been subject to since grade school…percentages. Let’s say a class has a “final qualification” in which you need to score 85% or higher to pass. Now let’s say Student 1 shoots this test the very first day as a baseline, and scores 88%. That can easily cause people to unconsciously shut down to new information and feel “competent enough”. This creates wasted time and money from the student, and also wasted energy from the instructor. Now take that same situation, and Student 2 scores 30% on Day 1. At the final test day, Student 2 scores 75%; does that make them a failure? And if so, why? If we look at a person who ‘fails’ an arbitrary course of fire yet improves their abilities by 45%, it is wrong to discredit them for that improvement! Furthermore, consider what that 85% score means in the real world; not much. Those scores are attained by completing a pre-determined, practiced, repeated series of shots with expected targets. However talented to ‘top student’ of these classes are, it does not translate into a real world, unforeseen and unrehearsed attack.
Another flaw I see in this type of training is the anxiety it places on the students to pass. I’m not saying that shooting under stress or feeling pressure is a bad thing by any means. But this type of pressure – will I pass or fail – is an un-do stress that causes students to lose sight of what they need to do. We need to be subjectively performing to the best of our abilities, not being concerned with passing a test that doesn’t matter. Pat McNamara, of TMACS Inc. and retired US Army, lays this example out well: instead of asking ‘how much, how many, and how fast’, we should be asking ‘how well can I perform my task?’”. This is the difference between outcome-based and performance-based training. As I continue to learn, develop my skills, and train under, and alongside, different people, I feel that this performance-based approach to training is far too scarce. At the end of the day, however, it is all that counts – can you do the best [job] you are capable of doing?
So, it’s time to honestly answer the question for yourself. Are you training the right way?
I would like to credit most of my positioning in this article to Rob Pincus. I have had the privilege of training under him, teaching alongside him, and calling him a friend. It was during his Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development course that my philosophies were put to the test by Rob, and his by me. That experience has helped shape my approach as an instructor, a student, and a product reviewer.
**This is not a review of Combat Focus Shooting nor is this article based solely on information in that program. For more information on CFS feel free to email us: email@example.com