What are you training for?

My apologies to all for the brief hiatus. We were busy with the local wildfires and then I took some time to attend to my own training. I had the rare opportunity to attend two very different firearms courses within one week. The juxtaposition of the two highlighted the differences between shooting and fighting.

The first class was the NRA Basic Pistol Instructor’s Course. I decided to take this class because I regularly get asked for advice and there has been a lot of interest in the NRA sponsored courses from friends, family, and associates. I refuse to dispense advice about things that I have no experience with, so I cowboy-ed up and paid for the class. All shooters are teachers and coaches, even if you are simply trying to improve yourself, you have to be your own instructor so taking a basic instructor’s course is not a bad idea for anyone. This particular course was very professionally managed and run. The lead instructor makes his living teaching NRA courses and was entirely proficient with his subject matter. The students ranged in experience and attitude from an ordained minister to active duty military personnel and everything in between.  Course materiel was appropriately oriented towards safety and training progression. Suggested lesson plans provide a framework for beginning with a student who has never fired a handgun and progressing through safe handling and shooting of the most common types of pistols and revolvers. I have never been to a firearms course where I did not take away something but I have taught hundreds of people how to shoot. As a result, most of my personal learning in this course was from interaction with the other students as they instructed. Some people seriously underestimate the value of this kind of interaction. Someone teaching you a skill that you already possess provides a fresh point of view that can improve your shooting or help you to instruct someone else. Everyone learns in different ways and everyone’s window on the world is a bit different. The more ways that you can describe, demonstrate, and relate to the same skill, the better. I would recommend that anyone with baseline firearms proficiency take this course. Learning to teach others to shoot, even if you don’t plan to  actively instruct, will improve your own shooting immensely.

My one real complaint about the course materiel is the NRA’s desire for its instructors to drop the word “weapon,” from the lexicon when teaching. The organization’s reasoning is that “weapon” may have a negative connotation which may be detrimental to the learning processes of some students. Utterly ridiculous, poppycock, goose feathers, elephant dung, oxen shit, take your pick of appropriate adjectives.

A weapon, any weapon, is an inanimate object, a tool. Something that is in the literal sense “motivated” by the will of the operator. As such, the word “weapon” holds nothing but a neutral connotation. This is beside the fact that many people taking the NRA Basic Pistol course will be primarily interested in learning about handguns on order to put them to their intended purpose, the defense of self and family. Denying the essence of a firearm is off-putting to many more people than calling it what it is. It also smacks of semantic trickery and intellectual dishonesty, tactics of those that want to disarm the populace, not those that are on the side of liberty.

As a group, gun owners cannot hammer gun control advocates for failure to use proper terminology and then censor ourselves from using one of the most correct terms for firearms; at least not if we expect to retain any intellectual honesty. I can avoid calling a Fairbairn-Sykes a “dagger” all that I like. I can even use one to slice bread and put jam on toast, it is still not a butter knife. It remains what its designers intended it to be, and what thousands have used it for, a fighting knife. In the same sense I can use a pistol for any number of innocuous competitions and shooting events. It still retains its purpose. It is a tool used to equalize and neutralize adverse situations. An object that can be used to increase the efficacy and efficiency of damage delivered to an opponent. A weapon. To deny that is disingenuous and the NRA should absolutely reconsider this teaching point.

The second class was a high-intensity course attended only by professionals and run by some of the best instructors in the country. We fired in excess of one thousand rounds per student, through many types of weapons, within a five day period. However, this was not a shooting course, it was a fighting course. Nine hours a day we were fighting with something. Empty hands, improvised weapons, contact weapons, rifles and pistols of multiple makes, models, and calibers. Single opponents, multiple opponents, single targets, multiple targets; no breaks.  At the end of the day we would limp our way back to our homes or hotel rooms to slam a handful of ibuprofens and a beer or four. Then we were back at it the next day. Every student was hurt, several were injured, but no one quit working.

The stark difference in the two student bodies reminded me of a truism that I discovered early in life and have seen proven again and again:

“There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men.” -Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

Everyone in the first class was competent, everyone in the second class was dangerous. I am glad that the first group represents the American population.  I thank God that the second group is on our side. These men are not mean or brutal, they are not arrogant and they are certainly not psychopaths. (Yes, they all happened to be men but if you think that a woman can’t take you apart, you are not hanging around with the right women. Weapons don’t have a gender.) In fact, if you were given the chance to hang out with them, you would find that they are some of the most engaging, intelligent and witty people that you will ever meet; until they are not. They are extreme sheepdogs.

Why was there such a disparity between student bodies?  Part of the answer is level of training. The second group of students had a much higher level of training than the first, but that is not the whole answer. Increased training just makes a dangerous individual more dangerous.  The answer is intensity of training. The first class of students accomplished exactly what they intended. They drove to the range, went to the line, put some rounds through paper targets, packed up their stuff and left. No big deal, except for the fact that many of them finished a shooting drill and immediately concealed their pistols for the drive home. With the exception of three students, myself included, no one fired any combat drills prior to leaving. They took the lessons that they reinforced on the range out into the dangerous places of the world.

The second group of student started every day on the range with shooting drills. Exercises designed to hone accuracy, precision, and speed. However, shooting drills were used as a warm up for gun-fighting drills. Exercises emphasizing movement, speed, necessary accuracy, lethality, and preparation for worst case scenarios. Everyone on the line was training like their lives depended on it, because they do. Guys made things as difficult as possible on one another and themselves by starting drills from positions of disadvantage and inducing malfunctions on one another’s guns.  It was not uncommon to see pistols or knives instinctively punched through a close target when a student ran out of ammo. It was also not uncommon for a student to sprint away from a target to find cover once an engagement was complete. Students were training like they were in the real world, not a flat range. They understand that guns are just tools, the man is the dangerous weapon. They took the dangerous places of the world onto the range and trained for a fight. The last thing every student did on the range for the day was run a successful combat drill.

What are you training for? If you carry a gun, or have one in the home for protection, an appropriate amount of your training time should be devoted to fighting with that gun, not just shooting it.  Yes, both skills are vital and one must be able to shoot a gun before being able to fight with it.  For most of us, training time is hard to come by and ammo (especially right now) is dear. This makes it even more imperative that we know what we are training for, identify personal weaknesses, and have a training plan. If you are new to firearms, take a basic course from a reputable instructor (I am going to do another article on how to find a good instructor) and learn to safely handle your weapon. If you have progressed past that point, it is time to stop admiring how small your shot-groups are and get serious with your tools. Know when you are training to shoot and when you are training to fight. Learn to fight with your guns and finish every training iteration with a fighting scenario. Then take those skills with you into the dangerous and unpredictable world in which we live.

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