Gunfighter First

This article is serving as a shout out, not only to my fellow LEO’s, but to war fighters and competitive shooters everywhere. This is my take on how to go about personal training with any firearm, for any purpose. And as far as I’m concerned, there should be one guiding star, one rule, that trumps all else when planning out and executing your training:

I am a gunfighter first.

When I say that, it’s important you understand exactly what I mean. I’m not implying that your intent should be to become an old west outlaw, killing on a whim (which by the way, is not a very accurate depiction of the “wild” west anyway). When I say I’m a gunfighter first, it’s because I learned to handle a firearm in order to protect myself. Anyone who owns a firearms has at some point said to themselves, if push came to shove, I would use my gun to protect myself and the ones I love. And if, God forbid, that moment ever arises in which you have to use that firearm, you are ready, because you are a gunfighter.

That being said, every element of your training should be to maximize your skills and efficiencies in handling your firearm of choice. The reason this topic came to me, is more of an accident. I’m not proud to say, I got into an online debate on an IDPA forum on Facebook. Stupid and childish, I know, but never-the-less, enlightening as to the mindset of competitive only shooters. I’ll spare you the details of thread and skip right to my point. DO NOT train skills that are not a direct benefit to you in a gun fight. I don’t care what IDPA, USPSA, IPSC, 3 Gun Nation, or any other competitive body allows, if it does not help you win a gun fight, don’t train it.

Let me give a couple examples. In a 3 gun match, at the end of a handgun stage, you are required to drop the magazine, rack your slide, and show clear before holstering back up. They do it for obvious safety reasons. If you train that way, whenever you’re on the range, don’t you think that’s going to become an automatic response at the completion of any course of fire? Now imagine you’re in a justified shooting. Upon putting rounds onto your bad guy, and he goes down, your adrenaline is pumping and you’re running on autopilot. You handled everything in this real life shoot like you do in practice, reloading when empty, slap, rack, engage…and that includes clearing your pistol when the threat went down. I never train like that on my own. I usually fumble with it when I’m at competitions, and I’m completely OK with it, because I know I’ll never do it in a gun fight.

Another perfect example. Here’s an excerpt from On Combat, The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace by Dave Grossman of the Killology Research Group. This passage discusses learned responses, and references to training. He references a training habit that was developed by revolver carrying officers. Whenever those officers would train, live fire on the range, they would always pocket their spent brass to save time on range cleanup. Well those same officers performed the same task when in real gun fights because it had been so ingrained in them. The result at the end of the gun fight was slower reloads, and pockets full of spent casings.

When it comes to choosing skills to work on, I’m extremely picky. I’ve always loved the metaphor, “another tool in the tool box,” when refferring to skills that you can bring to a fight. That said, do you want 25 pairs of pliers if all you need is a screwdriver? There is a point in everyone’s “tactical toolbox,” when it can become cluttered with to many, “skills.”

Despite what some shooters will tell you, not all gun handling is good gun handling. I keep my handling skills down to the following basics, and these are also what I teach in my classes:

  • Load (palm down, thumb back)
  • Unload (same motion)
  • Locking the slide to the rear (same motion)
  • Speed Load (again, same motion; are you beginning to see a pattern?)
  • Tac Loads
  • All your major and minor malfunction drills (palm down, thumb back; surprised?)

I think it’s pretty obvious, I’m a big proponent of consistency. All of my actions use gross motor skills whenever possible, and I try to keep all of them using similar movements whenever possible. If I’m in a gun fight, and I need an automatic response, I want that response to be something I’m familiar with, and do all the time. It’s generally accepted that it requires thousands of repetitions before an action becomes muscle memory. As that’s the case, I want my actions to be used in as many procedures as humanly possible in order to ingrain them in my subconscious that much faster. In this case, that process is operating the slide by placing my palm down on top, thumb facing rearword.

As for my training plan itself, I do have a general framework I tend to follow. It’s based, in part, off a principal I first learned about when reading Building A Better Gunfighter, by Richard Fairburn. I’ve also picked up similar training styles elsewhere, but to my mind, it was the first place it was described as such. By the way, I highly recommend it for a starting point in building your own training program. My plan, and the plan according to Fairburn are very similar and very simple.

There are 3 tiers to every program. Basic marksmanship, mechanical skills, and practical application. Marksmanship being the ability to hit what your aiming at in a static environment. Mechanical skills being your ability to reload, clear malfunctions and operate your weapon system, again, in a static environment. Practical application tying together the other two while adding movement, shoot/no shoot scenarios, and fast paced decision making. While Fairburn likes the idea of a circular staircase, hitting each topic, one at a time, in order, over and over with increasing difficulty, I’ve adapted it more to a program that works better for me.

A rough format of my training goes like this:

  • Marksmanship drill
  • Mechanical drill
  • Marksmanship drill
  • Practical exercise

Make note: that order often changes. This particular order is great for beginner shooters, who need the reminder that everything builds from basic marksmanship. Veteran shooters, however should often times start with a practical exercise. This helps to simulate the stress and uncertainty of a real encounter without being warmed up. Additionally, it’s always good to end a training session on a good note, and slowing yourself down, forcing yourself to practice basic marksmanship principals will often provide you with that positive ending.

There’s a few reasons I double, or even triple up on marksmanship. It’s easy to get sloppy with marksmanship when you get into advanced tactics and movements. I feel it helps to periodically go back to the basics during training sessions. Also, like I said earlier, everything builds off of basic marksmanship, and it is a skill that deteriorates without focus. So practices often, even if only in small spurts.

Another thing to remember when coming up with a plan for training; increase the intensity of the drills as your skills increase. Don’t ever let yourself plateau. Star adding time limits. Invest in a shot timer or download an app for your smart phone. Have a shooting buddy plan surprise practical exercises for you. Stop loading your own magazines, allowing a partner to decide when and where to add dummy rounds. Change up the shooting environment. Shoot in different weather, wearing different clothes. Shoot all year round. Anything you can do to add realism, practicality, and difficulty will help you in the long run.

OK gunfighters, you’ve had my spiel for the day on training. It’s what I’ve developed for myself over years for personal training, for the police officers I train, and for the students in my classes. What is most important, is that you do get out there, and you do train. People do not rise to the occasion, they descend to the level of their training.

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