Why, How and Where We Train

The intriguing question about training posed in the Shooting Sports Forum brings up some issues that need to be addressed. This may be long, so bear with me. It is not is not intended to ruffle any feathers… but it will.

It is based on my experience, so is consequently subjective. Then again, these are my opinions: Most men are born believing they can do three things without training. Drive a car, have sex, and shoot guns. (Women may wish to add something about a sense of direction here.)

This is of course patently false.

The mere possession of a firearm no more makes a person a shooter then the possession of a piano makes one a musician (apologies to Lt. Col. Cooper here). Yet the majority of gun owners in this country believe exactly that.

The mere possession of a firearm brings with it a higher moral, legal and ethical standard. Like Caesar’s wife you are held to a higher standard; the general public at large, and especially the politicians and media, will scrutinize for years everything you may do in a few heartbeats. Just because you had a gun.

While society in general eschews the thought of personal responsibility, the cold hard fact of life is that you are responsible for everything that you do. When it comes to firearms, it is even more so.

You are responsible for the terminal resting place of every projectile that you launch downrange, be it for the defense of your life or life of a third party, hunting, during a competitive exercise, or “plinking.”

My interest in firearms is primarily for anti-personnel use (due to the nature of my work), or in a competitive discipline (I am a High Power Rifle shooter). Firearms are tools, and nothing more. I am not a collector, and my frame of reference is almost strictly from an operational or training point of view.

So, why do we need training?

Well for one thing, most of us cannot shoot.

Pretty broad statement, but consider that the Combat Triad is comprised of three parts.

  • Marksmanship: the ability to align the sights and control the trigger to the rear without disturbing said alignment.
  • Gun Handling: the ability to manipulate the weapon. Present it, reload it, and reduce malfunctions.
  • Mindset: the most important of the three. Without this, the type of gun you have, the holster you carry it in, or the ammunition loaded therein is useless.

About one-quarter to one-third of the people I have run across can actually perform the first part, marksmanship, efficiently, and on demand.

Perhaps one-eighth have any clue what gunhandling is all about. Don’t believe me? Go to any shooting range, gun store or gun show, and observe how people conduct themselves.

And precious few have the proper mindset. This is apparent in their everyday life.

I am firmly convinced that a great many receive “Training” from three primary sources.

The first is enthusiast magazines, “gunzines.” Well guys, that sure ain’t the way to learn anything. What you receive from any printed source is raw information, and nothing more. You are reading the opinion of the authors (just as you are doing now), and their background may be extremely limited or highly valid. Charlie Petty, Dean Speir and I write and I think that we all can attest that there are many unethical and just downright stupid people (just go to any of the manufacturer’s media shoots and this becomes all too apparent!) writing for every magazine out there … as well as some very astute and competent types.

But how do you know?

Training has to be structured. It has to be supervised, and it has to be conducted by someone who is competent and while you are away from all other distractions.

The second source is a sign of our times, the Internet. As my SO likes to say, “Everyone on the ‘Net is an expert.” What comes out on the various bulletin boards and forums is also subjective, and a lot of it is just stupid, if not unhealthy.

Peruse some of the lists. I am astounded at what some pass off as “training.” Yet some of it is very useful in the limited context of information.

The third source is gun shops. Why anyone would believe that a gun store clerk is a knowledgeable trainer is beyond me. Gunstores are in business for one reason only: to make money. This is of course what all business is for. They may not be there to sell you what is best, but rather what brings in the highest profit.

Of course, some are there to help you. Go to Dave’s Guns in Denver, Colorado and bump into Steve Slawson. He is a real deal guy and an extremely knowledgeable trainer in his own right.

But how do you know? There are also secondary sources. Primary among those is from family members and friends. The quality and intensity of this is of course situationally dependent on their background/frame of reference and the nature of the relationship. (How about teaching/being taught to drive a motor vehicle by a spouse??? How long does that last?)

A "Full Sabrina," demonstrated by Angeline Joli as LARA CROFT.Few in the military shoot. Few cops shoot. Fewer can actually impart knowledge.

Training has to be structured, especially in the initial stages. I consider the family/friend thing, in most cases, to be more exposure then training.

Another secondary source is… you guessed it… TV and movies. Yes, we run into loads of people whose shooting style mimics certain characters on the screen. (Consider the “Half-Sabrina” and “Full Sabrina” positions, gleaned from the Charlie’s Angels show of a generation past!)

So, why seek out professional training?

Shooting cannot be self-taught. (An analogy would be in learning how to play the pipes. You need to have someone watching you all of the time… and don’t I know that!) You have to learn in that structured environment.

The training has to be presented properly, that is, as a building block approach. It must be comprised of those issues related to the training you seek. That is, go to a fighting school to learn defensive shooting. Go to a bullseye school to learn bullseye shooting, and an IPSC clinic to learn that discipline. There is some crossover, but not much.

You need to test yourself. Some who attend shooting schools (a broad term) find that for many reasons they cannot function under pressure. This has little to do with physical issues, and everything to do with attitudinal issues. (Doubt me? Talk to anyone who has attended Gunsite classes with Bill Hidink, a civilian employee of Suffolk County (NY) PD. Bill has more physical infirmities then Carter has liver pills. He received an “E” Ticket at Gunsite in 250, 350 and 499, and he can’t stand or walk unaided.)

But until you attend a week long course under controlled conditions where you have to perform to a standard that increases daily, while you are full of self doubt, suffering from performance anxiety, and under great peer pressure, you will never know.

And guess what folks. That little bit of pressure that many can’t hack is miniscule when compared to what you might face in a gunfight.

You need to be exposed to efficient techniques and methodology. The best instructors are those who do it full time, and who have actually worked in the environment.

Lastly, you need to test your equipment. Those showing up at shooting schools traditionally have equipment that falls into three categories.

First are those who have seldom fired their gun. (This goes hand-in-hand with seldom or ever having done any shooting). They have their blaster because that is what the gunstore had in stock, or because of what they read in a gunzine.

After two days, they find out that their DA super whiz banger with the ability to hold a high cap magazine is really way too large to get a proper firing grip, and that fatbody grip is largely wasted with a 10 round magazine¹ anyway. And, they can’t break that low left first round hit because of the unnecessary double action. And they wind up with something else entirely.

I once had a student show up with his carry gun, a Walther PPK/S. After explaining that neither he nor the gun would stand up to a week’s worth of shooting, he reluctantly borrowed a Glock 19. On the last day he asked if he could just shoot his PPK/S, this favorite gun that he has carried for 15 years. I let him. He fired one round and the gun locked up so tight that it required a hammer to clear it… a true “jam.”

Second are those who are enthusiasts and who have researched what they shoot. They have fired many rounds through the gun and it usually works fine. Sometimes an issue will occur here. Firing many rounds over the course of a year or three does not equal firing many rounds in one day or one week. Usually on Tuesday the band aids, moleskin and riggers tape will appear where checkering (placed there by the artiste who insisted that this is what all gunslingers must have) will have abraded their hand.

The third group will have well worn guns. This equates with people who use them. They know what works and what does not. They have been through training before. Their magazines function. The sights do not fall off the gun.

Sometimes they are too well broken in, and parts will break. But that is why we train.

Shooting is a perishable skill. One weekend, or week, does not a gunfighter make. Learning is continuous, and training must continue.

Where do I get training?

Well, what is it that you want?

The NRA has schools that are very basic and very “PC.” If that is what you want, seek them out. But if you want to control your environment, go to a fighting school that has a proven track record.

Established schools will have a knowledgeable cadre. Be cautious of itinerant instructors… some are excellent. Some are hucksters And some are space-men!

Week long “sleep away” courses have several advantages.

  • The facilities are more able to support realistic training.
  • The training you receive is intense-consider it to be similar to immersion type language training.
  • You can see a wide variety in equipment, may be able to purchase items/ equipment, and have guns repaired thereat.

The downside is money. But then again, What is Your Life Worth?

Local classes have their own advantages/disadvantages as well. They are usually one-to-two days in length, and you will get exactly that much training. They are local, which is more convenient. And they are less expensive, a major consideration to many.

But the facilities may not be anything more then a square range. And the instructor may, or may not be someone with a valid background.

I had a student ask me why, when he advertised that he was teaching a class, he had few takers, even though he charged only a few dollars. I asked what he did for a living, and he explained he was a lawyer.

Well, there you go! If I want to learn law, I go to law school. Brain surgery, medical school. Gunfighting? Gee, let me think about that one. Hmmm….

Choose wisely. Ask about others’ experiences with specific instructors or schools, but be aware that a halo effect exists. (“In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”²) Place more faith in the counsel of someone who has been to a variety of schools and who has trained under a number of instructors.

But get training. You need it, if for no other reason to ensure safe and efficient gun handling. We get large numbers of absolute idiots who have never heard of the four safety rules, but have no qualms at all about covering others with their firearm, moving with their finger on the trigger or shooting without regard to the final resting place of their bullets.

We will see people who spend oodles of money to go to golf school, attend wine tasting class, or even a stage play. But they won’t spend a penny for firearms training.

Doesn’t make any sense to me. Does it make sense to you?

Larry Pearson is an NRA certified pistol instructor and a member of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, as well as a former police officer, former military firearms instructor and lifelong student of the martial arts. He also felt that he had something of value to share with the firearms community, and wondered which gunzines he should approach with the above essay. The problem was that he was dealing in ideas and concepts, and virtually all of the present gunzines only want articles about products and services so that their advertising department can sell space and everyone can make money. This is the American way. This is his first published work.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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